God is Content
My sabbatical gift has concluded. I am back in the office and eternally grateful. It has been a marvelous ten weeks. Ten words have been on my heart and this posting brings me to the tenth. Exodus 20:17 concludes what we often call the “Ten Commandments” or “Ten Words” in this way. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male servant, female servant, ox, donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” “You shall not covet” is the imperative here. Covet is a strong Hebrew word for “desire, take, have pleasure in, or even lust after.” It is a harsh picture of our insatiable appetite to serve self. The counter to this bent toward wanting what is not rightfully ours is the supreme reminder that God is content. Because God’s character and nature rests in supreme contentment, there is the possibility that we too could find contentment. God provides the perfect counter to our inner craving for what we do not have. He provides Himself. God, in His wise and loving provision, asks that we trust and obey Him as “Provider,” rather than seeking that which we do not have.
This sabbatical has been a constant reminder to me that God is content. Because of who God is His contentment can nurture my contentment. These past ten weeks afforded me the opportunity to retreat to places like the Chiara Center in Springfield, Illinois, the Benedict Inn in Indianapolis, Indiana, Starved Rock State Park, Moraine View State Park, and even the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed my day in tiny Anamosa. I was the only one in the museum most of the day. I am certain some of you are calling into question the possibility that a motorcycle haven could actually serve as a rest and refreshment location, but I assure you it was. Beyond all of these day trips, the journey to Rome, Italy and ultimately to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Monte Casino was a dream come true. Gift after gift came from the good and gracious hands of God. One might think that I perfectly lived out contentment and never struggled with covetousness, but that would be a gross lie.
Some of you know that my luggage never arrived in Rome. Only after Sue and I returned home to Bloomington-Normal did my well-traveled clothes reach their intended destination. For reasons beyond comprehension, my luggage had bounced back and forth between Rome and Paris multiple times. Somehow, someway Air France found the missing luggage and my clothes were placed on a KLM flight to Atlanta, Georgia, then on to Chicago O’Hare, and finally to our small Central Illinois Regional Airport. You cannot fabricate a story like that. Those ten days in Rome, without fresh clothes, reminded me that I am capable of coveting that which I do not have. Forgive my bluntness. I wanted clean underwear, clean socks, and clean t-shirts. I craved my laundered jeans and fresh Nike tops. I seldom notice what others wear, but during those ten days, I keenly observed what other men were wearing in our hotel, especially at morning breakfast, and especially as we toured the ancient sites of Rome. I wanted what I did not have. The battle was internal. It was a heart war. Sue commented on numerous occasions how well I was dealing with the missing clothes. The raw truth is hard to hear. I have the kind of personality that presses onward and upward when bad things happen. I often deny my true feelings. I wall off the deepest parts of my inner world, so that I cannot be hurt. I dismiss reality and fabricate an alternate world. I outwardly let my clothes go and inwardly pouted. I outwardly smiled and inwardly whined. I outwardly joked and inwardly sulked.
I thought a great deal about Paul’s remarkable statement and example, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11). I, on the other hand, have so much more to learn. The entire Rome experience became a school of discipleship for me. As I think back, I had so much for which to be grateful. I had superb food, the clothes on my back, beautiful accommodations, my beloved Sue, and incredible sites to see. My heart, instead of rejoicing, coveted. Each time the ugly demon of covetousness reared its awful head, I prayed like crazy. I clinched tightly to the safety line strung between my heart and God’s Word. I reminded myself what I did have. It was a tremendous spiritual battle.
Now I am back to the rhythm and routine of home and work. I am spending a great deal of time catching up and wrapping up the sabbatical project – “A Missing Discipleship: What the Monks and Nuns Can Teach Us.” All of this reflection has gotten me thinking about my own ongoing spiritual formation. I continue to meditate upon a fresco that I saw at Monte Casino. It is a ceiling- painting in St. Benedict’s Basilica. There are actually four frescos above the burial place of Benedict and his sister, Scholastica, each painting parallels one of the four Benedictine vows of chastity, stability, poverty, and obedience. The one that captures my heart is the one that shows an obedient monk leaning into a storm that swirls around him. His right hand raises toward his right ear. He is attentive and alert to God’s voice. Like that monk, I have been lifting my right hand to my right ear and listening closely to what God may still want to teach me about contentment. He is, after all, the Master and I am His apprentice. So are you. Amen.