In a few months my wife and I will celebrate 5 happy years of marriage. I’m not sure how that ranks with the rest of the world but I figure 5 happy years out of 29 years of marriage isn’t bad. A few days here, a couple of weeks there, one or two hours here, a few minutes there. If you think I am joking you would be mistaken, we have been married for 29 years! As far as the 5 years of happiness, the total amount of happiness may be off by a few days or even a few years but the idea is accurate; not every moment of every day has been happy.
Anniversaries are not a celebration of contentment but instead a reminder of commitment.
I am getting better at this marriage thing. I wasn’t very good at it in the beginning and there are times that my wife would say I am not so good at it now (actually she wouldn’t because she would not want me to look bad). To make it one sided would be to paint my wife as perfect, something that is not only impossible for any human being, but it is also a level of pressure that no one should have to endure. Still, I can say without hesitation that I have been the more difficult one in the relationship. Often my being difficult comes out of my lack of contentment. My lack of contentment can be based in my perception of reality, actual reality or as it is in most cases, a combination of both. While I have learned to take a closer look at the causes of my lack of contentment, the only way to guarantee that lack of contentment does not dominate or destroy my marriage is to remind myself of our commitment.
Lack of contentment is about the moment, commitment is about every moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not living out most of my marriage lacking contentment. Even though the amount of happy years does not equal the amount of married years I still am very happily married. I am happily married because I am in a relationship that is based on the commitment made between my wife and I that applies to every moment. I am happily married because in the moments that my wife or I are not content with our marriage, we are committed to the marriage. This commitment leads to the desire to find contentment in our relationship. It is not our responsibility to make each other content but rather it is our responsibility to be content serving the needs of each other. We have done the worse, the poorer and the sickness. I would even go as far as to say we have done all these with excellence. On the other hand we would like to try the better, the richer and the health, I think we could excel at these as well. Are we happily married? Yes. Have we had a happy marriage? At times. We are not always content but we are always committed which leads to contentment.
Faithful obedience to God every moment is to be celebrated even if we don’t feel content.
Last Sunday was the 121st anniversary celebration for a church that was not sure it would make it past 120. I had the honour of being asked back to be the guest speaker and my family and I had the honour of leading worship. It was the first time I had been at a service in this church since I completed my responsibilities as transitional pastor. In the year I was at the church I heard about the pain of the past and the hurt that interfered with their ability to be content. There was a serious possibility that the damage done could not be repaired and the church would die. With an average Sunday attendance of 12-14 people, many of whom were ready to join the others who had left, there was not much to celebrate. Fast forward one year and 47 people gathered to celebrate. We didn’t ignore the past but instead we celebrated God’s faithfulness and the church’s commitment to God’s plan even in the moments that lacked anything close to contentment. As a church they had experienced the better and the worse, the richer and the poorer, and the sickness and health that comes along with being a part of the bride of Christ in a sinful world.
…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. Philippians 4:11b-12 (NIV)
Paul didn’t say that his faith in Christ automatically made him content. Paul didn’t say that the circumstance, what was going on, made him content. Paul said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Later he says he has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” In the moment, based on the circumstances, he may not have always been content but he had learned that he could be content in every moment based on his obedient faith in God. Commitment to God led to contentment in God even if the situation did not make him content. Serving the needs of the other in the relationship out of commitment rather than based on circumstance leads to contentment. Contentment whatever the circumstances, in all relationships including our relationship with God is not easy but Paul says there is a secret to be learned, a way to reach this lofty goal:
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)