When I was in about the 6th grade, we had to run a mile in under ten minutes for our P.E. class. Now, I had played sports of various kinds for a few years, and I had always been an active kid. I like to look back and laugh now at how our Mama would (literally) lock us out of the house on Saturday mornings; we had all kinds of adventures in the woods and would only knock on the door around lunch to ask for a cold biscuit, left over from that morning’s weekly breakfast feast. But a runner…not me! However, I was a straight-A student, and I had no intentions of letting that boy in my class get the highest class average. So, run like the devil I did, but about a half mile in I started to fade. A flash of sudden inspiration spurred me on, though! I remembered a Bible verse I had learned in our youth group: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. I said this over and over and over again in my head as I continued to run. And I finished that mile in less than ten minutes, earning my A+ for the class! Woohoo!
But life happens. And anxiety and overwhelm happens. Problems get bigger than a 10-minute mile, and things are infinitely more complicated and important than getting an A in 6th grade P.E. Differing opinions and theologies swirl in my head. “OK, so I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, but I am also supposed to rest? And if I am too busy to read my Bible, then I am busier than you want me to be, right, God? But my faith should be evident by my works, right? I know, I know, salvation is not earned, it is given, but still.…I have to do the works! Fruits of the spirit, right? Shine my light? You know, God, I can’t be hiding under a bushel! I have to shine! For you! So, let me have that strength so I can do ALL. THE. THINGS.”
Whew. I have been tired in my life, running around like my butt’s on fire and my head’s catching. And despite all the “good work” I was doing, I felt empty and unsettled. “Maybe I need to do more,” I would think to myself. “Or maybe I said the wrong yes. I know! I will drop this and pick up that. That’s the answer!” Nope. Still not right. It was a frustrating and endless cycle, and I am still working on it, but I have learned a few things along the way that have made a tremendous difference for me. Let me, hopefully, spare you some heartache….
- Grace. Grace is traditionally defined by pastor-types as “unmerited favor.” Um, okay. What does that mean?! I’ve sung “Amazing Grace” countless numbers of times in my life, but it was well into my adult years that I really learned what “unmerited favor” means; an easier way to say this is “undeserved kindness.” Smiling and being kind to the rude store clerk = grace. Hugging your husband and offering a kind word when he comes home from work like a grumpy old man (and your day hasn’t been so easy either) = grace. Helping that co-worker who gossiped about you or hurt your feelings last week = grace. We have all faced situations where someone “deserved” our wrath or snarky comment, but guess what? Jesus died for YOU (and for me!) while we were still sinners. While we mocked and cursed him. If God can give you that kind of grace, surely you can pass that along to other mere humans, right?! When you remember how undeserving you are of kindness and favor from God, it makes it a little easier to show grace to others.
- Gratitude. It is hard to be bitter or angry when you only focus on the positive in your life. Gratitude is an attitude. It is a choice. You can choose to look for, read about, focus on all that you consider to be wrong in the world. Or you can choose to look for, read about, focus on all that is good in your life. There is always someone better or worse off than you are, but when you stop comparing and start being thankful for every little thing, your whole world changes. (Honestly, it is not the world that changes, it’s you. And that spills over to those around you!) A heart tuned to gratitude naturally focuses on the good. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” -Philippians 4:8
- Contentment. I learned something really important recently. That whole Philippians 4:13 verse? It is preceded by Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Of course, this is followed by the well-known verse I quoted to myself while running, but what I learned recently is that in the original language “things” can also mean “this,” so to full understand the text, it is important to read it this way:
- “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Christ, who strengthens me.”
Yes, that’s the difference friends! We will never be truly content until we understand that Jesus is all we ever need. He fulfills every desire, every yearning. He is the beginning and the end. He doesn’t need us or our works, but He is full of love and grace (undeserved kindness) toward us, and because of that, we can always be grateful and content! Have I stopped or slowed down? Not as much as I probably should, but I am learning to rest in Jesus, to be content no matter what, to stop thinking about the “what ifs” and the “only ifs” and start praising Him in the now, because He is good. All. The. Time.
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:6
Happy Easter! May it be full of grace, gratitude, and contentment!
Dr. Allison Key