The Contentment Tool

A few New Year’s Eve’s ago, my husband and I went out with some friends to a local pub.  The kids were with a sitter, and the thought of going out like we used to was intoxicating in and of itself.  The pub was dimly lit, with a colored laser machine at one end.  A DJ was mixing house music, old-school hip hop, and classic rock.  The scene was loud and packed with people all looking at each other and shouting to see and be seen.  We were thrilled to see if we still could party like we were a few years younger, with a few less responsibilities.

At one point in the night, the scene shifted, the beat deepened, and people piled onto the dance floor.  Our friends claimed a spot, and we danced all together.  After a song, my husband took our orders for the next round, and made his way through a sea of shoulders, to the bar.  While there, another girl, pretty, in a tight and short little something, squeezed in next to him.  Wearing a fuzzy headband that read “Birthday Goddess” clipped to her hair, she smiled and asked him to buy her a drink – it being her birthday and all.  He declined,  showing his ring and explaining that he was married.  Suddenly, her countenance changed.  A look of sad longing came over her face.

“Oh God, that’s all I really want!” she declared.  “It’s my birthday.  I’m 30 years old now.  And all I really want is a man to marry and have kids with!  I never thought I’d still be here, single and going out, just to get a man.”

My husband knew that this honesty was largely from the drinks, but he understood.

This girl was out looking for what I had. She just turned 30, and wanted  family more than anything.  Here I was, trying to fit in among the party scene for a night, while she was working overtime to get out of the scene and into a more domestic life of family.

I’ve got what she wants.  What’s more, I’ve got what I want.

This realization makes the slog of these mommy days worthwhile – when I just want a minute to myself, or a house that’s finally clean, or to be responsible for nobody anymore.  I can complain and feel sorry for myself like an Olympic champion.  It comes so naturally.  But the truth is:

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I’ve got what I want.

Which brings Contentment.

Aside from poetic depictions of appreciating dirty gym socks that I’ve heard before, there IS value in changing my perspective:

My same husband who has come home to me for 10 years, is my HUSBAND!  I HAVE one. We have stayed married for 10 years!  I could be single still.  I could be divorced by now.  I could be a widow.  But instead I’m still building a marriage and a life with him.  We drive each other crazy. We work hard to fight back to each other.  But look!  We have each other with whom to hold, and to fight, and to play, and to parent alongside.  Look at that!  I have what I want!  A man who has promised me the rest of his life.  What a phenomenal gift!

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Getting and keeping what you want is hard work.  Work that requires the right tools.

Contentment is a fantastic tool in the box of happiness.

When I was 27, my ever-dormant maternal instincts sprang to life and took control of all my senses.   I suddenly needed a baby.  Now, well into my thirties,  I’m expecting our 3rd child.  I have children!  I have what I want!  What a thought!  The reproductive process exemplifies how little control we have over bearing children, what kind of children, and when.  Last year when I miscarried a baby, it gutted me that I had no control over the hospitality of my own womb.  It was crazy-making.

And yet, I have children!  My kids drive me nuts with their constant fighting and whiny attitudes.  This baby in my belly  kicks the hardest as I’m trying to fall asleep.  But I wanted each of these people so much I couldn’t stand the wait to conceive each one.  My insides swell with love and pride when I see them grow and develop more into who God made them to be.  They also show me how bad I am at parenting.  Ladies without kids don’t know how bad they are at being a mom.  But I have a pretty good idea of my own shortcomings.  It’s a terrible familiarity that comes with getting just what I want.

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And another thing: I have a HOUSE.  What kind of American Dream is this?  It’s big and old and drafty and interesting.  I hate cleaning bathrooms, and the vacuuming only gets done when a cracker-crumb-bomb goes off in the living room. I changed our bedsheets this week, as I do diligently after every golden anniversary of a blue moon.  But I lost steam halfway through (pregnancy’s fault), and the mattresses lay bare until nightfall.  I actually used my last breath to pull out the sleeping bags for the girls for the night.  But my mother-in-law happened to be over, sent by the Lord HIMSELF, and kindly tucked in fresh sheets and blankets onto her grandchildrens’ beds.  But really? Am I that lame at this housekeeping thing?  And yet, I have a house, of which I do not feel worthy.  A house, of which I am the woman.  The “Alma de Casa,” as my husband says. Wow.  That’s a big deal.

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I have a  family, and a job description of homemaker.  I do my husband’s laundry for a living.  I socialize little girls and teach them about the value of “treating others the way you want to be treated.”  I have all the qualifications of a domestic servant – for my own home.  I can complain about my job, I guess.  We all do.  But if I complain enough, I’ll become more discontent with all of it.  Which makes “getting exactly what I want” absolutely  unbearable.

Some of the best sermons I’ve hear preach about this: stay the course.  Do not desert your post.  Stay in the place in which you are, when it all just feels like too much work.  I’m not talking about abusive situations.  I’m talking about the hard grinding work of keeping commitments, of nightly making the dinners, of wiping noses, and of keeping your focus to stay true to your marriage.  These hard choices makes for a stable home life in which to raise littles, and to keep husbands.  And it’s a huge mark of maturity to develop diligence.

But how?  Contentment is a big burly tool for this.  And I know we shouldn’t compare, but for the sake of getting outside of my head, I do sometimes.  I compare myself with women who don’t have what I have – just to remind myself that I have the things I want!  Glory to God!  And the things that I want are so much work!  Glory to God!  I choose to be content.  Because I want to be glad about getting the very things  I wanted so badly.

There is no guarantee any of us will get anything we want.  That girl in the pub was surprised and depressed that she didn’t have it yet.  And I pray she finds it.

But if I can see what I actually DO have, then I can use the tool of contentment to keep and enjoy my family, in all their seasons, in all their work and all their joy, seeing them as what they really are: a gift from God.

 

 

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Steph Lenox is a thirty-something wife/mother/writer. She writes to the mommy tribe, discovering that, in the end, it's the hard choices - and God's good grace - that feel way better than straight coffee and pastries and trash TV.

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