Monthly Archives: August 2013

Contentment Vs Grass-Is-Greener Syndrome

??????????????????????While walking one day, Mary Helen spied a very unusual sight; a tiny flowering plant growing in the top of an old post. The aged post was one of a number holding up a guardrail near a bay off Lake Ontario. In more affluent times, road crews would have replaced it. We’re fortunate they didn’t. The tiny flower reminded us to prosper where we’re planted.

From Eden when Adam and Eve scorned the hundreds of fruit trees they could enjoy to lust after the one forbidden tree, we have all been afflicted with a grass-is-greener syndrome. If only we had a house by the sea. If only we had more money. If only we had better health. If only we had more interesting jobs. If only our church was more spiritual. If only we could win the lottery. If only our children were more thoughtful. If only we had a retirement plan like Joe’s.

We tend to be discontented people. We look around and imagine things different—better somehow. But God says, grow in grace where you are, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. Show love. Experience joy. Minister kindness. Give thanks. Learn patience.

As Ann Voskamp writes, “As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible, Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning—now; wherever, meaning —here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now.” (One Thousand Gifts, p. 33)

No, joy is not found in some exotic location. Or even in a more convenient house. We’ve had our present property up for sale in hopes of moving to a smaller place in town where we can live without stairs or outside maintenance. But interest has been abysmal. The weeks drag by without showings.

Oh, it’s not wrong to change our circumstances; to try and tailor our housing to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAour health. Within each of us is a latent desire to improve our surroundings, to beautify, to invent, to create. This is part of being image-bearers, created in the image of God, the Great Creator. Being content is not about being satisfied with the mediocre. It’s more about living joyfully today instead of being miserable because tomorrow hasn’t come. It’s about being patient with current circumstances.

So, Lord please help me to curb my discontent. Help me to become a blessing to You and others here, where you have planted me, now in this day you have given.

Aging and Losing Control

The summer sun beckons me outdoors for a hike. But my knees won’t cooperate. Grr! Dead branches on our cedars need trimming. But I’m warned not to climb ladders. But I don’t feel old inside! And yet reality has begun to seriously limit both Mary Helen’s and my activities. It’s frustrating. As I think about it, I realize that it’s all about losing control.

Ever since Satan whispered to Adam and Eve that they would be like God, autonomous and knowing all things, we have all faced control issues. We innately want to be in control of our daily life, our destiny, and especially our bodies. Our body is our own, after all. One of the main things many people hate about the biblical revelation of our infinite, self-sufficient, sovereign God; He doesn’t need us but we need Him and He rules the universe.Walking stick

Through much of life, the vibrancy of a person’s health may enable him to ignore God. But aging brings us face to face with actuality. We are not sovereign, only God is. Instead of being in control of our running and jumping and sleeping—all of our activities—our aging bodies limit us. And it aggravates us.

Observation should have told us, even when we were young, that life is beyond our control. We can’t change the weather. We can’t avoid accidents. Six weeks ago Mary Helen suffered a concussion due to a freak happening. We can’t predict the stock market. We don’t know what our health will be like tomorrow. We can’t change our DNA.

Now it is true that modern societies have been able to engineer relatively safe and healthy environments. And yet there remains an enormous unpredictability to life. Mature people realize this and plan for the unexpected. Most, however, still rail against circumstances and buy lottery tickets in the vain hope that their ship will come in.

I think I understand. In spite of being a Christian for over 60 years, it seems like I haven’t yet learned, like the Apostle Paul, to be content in all circumstances. What circumstances he endured! Five times he received 39 lashes. He was stoned, beaten 3 times with rods, shipwrecked three times. He endured imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights and hunger. He wrote from prison, “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”(Phil. 4:11-12). What was the secret? A verse I’ve claimed throughout the years, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength”(Phil. 4:13).

Surely if Paul, under such dire and changing circumstances, could feel content, we ought to accept our lot with equanimity—especially the inevitability of aging. The secret, of course, is looking to our divine Shepherd, remembering that He said, “And surely I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

And so, whether young or older, let’s pray, Lord help me to accept what I cannot change without grumbling and griping and self-pity.

Bear Sightings

Country means the presence of critters: deer, turkeys, rabbits, and raccoons. But bears? Every year our local papers have an article or two about bears being sighted in our heavily populated but relatively rural county.

The Peterborough office of the Ministry of Natural Resources says that we have black bears, not only in the wilderness areas of the north but right down to the shore of Lake Ontario. A shoreline with a string of cities and towns from Hamilton through Toronto to Cobourg, Belleville and Kingston? Ontario evidently has over 75,000 black bears who can weigh from 100 to 600 pounds.

BearWe are urged to put garbage in bear-proof containers, take in all bird feeders, and make sure our barbecue is clean. If we face a bear we should not run away but make lots of noise, raise our arms to look big, and slowly back away. Bears are probably as afraid of us as we are of them. Never run or climb a tree.

Scary? Something to fear? In Canada, I believe there is only one death yearly by bear—and that by a grizzly. We have 9.2 vehicle fatalities per 100,000 population. We have 57 lightning deaths a year, 590 drownings, and 1200 fatalities from workplace accidents.

Fear of bears should be very far down on our list of phobias. Society sweeps a host of other dangers under the carpet which we should really fear. To use Dr. Craig Carter’s term, our culture has become a culture of death. We’ve seen the death of absolute moral standards. Relativism has murdered respect for absolute truth. Marriage is on life support. Hyper-feminism has sought to redefine life to allow for the death by abortion of about 100,000 unborn children per year in Canada. Agitation for euthanasia is picking up steam.

A culture of death! We need not fear bears. We need rather to fear that which destroys our ability to cherish life and fear God. The fear of God breeds reverence for life and clarity of vision—the sense of awe at God’s beauty that moves us to live clean, constructive, peaceful, gentle lives. How desperately we need to spread the message of Jesus, the only antidote for our culture of death. “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly”(John 10:10).

Aging and Envy

 I leaned back on our living room sofa, and gazed through the skylight. The leaves on the toAging birchp-most branches of a majestic white birch fluttered in the breeze. But wait! Something was wrong. Some of the branches were dying. Our beautiful birch has a disease called, birch die-back.

I feel more and more like that aging birch. A decade and a half ago doctors found blocked arteries that were inoperable. That stopped all hiking. As the years went by, sleeping through a whole night became a memory. Then came more frequent visits to the dentist and the optometrist. Now arthritic knees has rendered my daily walk painful or non-existent.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know my distress cannot compare to those who endure debilitating diseases. I view those who bear chronic disability or terminal cancer with cheerfulness as true heroes. I’m in awe of them.Aging Poplar

But to be honest, this whole aging business is challenging. I always expected to burn out rather than rust out. Obviously, I need perspective, especially when I see young people, even people in their forties and fifties, in vibrant health. Running. Hiking. Cycling. Canoeing. Playing hockey. Traveling the world. It’s not fair.

I think that’s envy talking. And envy clouds reality, stifles joy, shrivels thankfulness, and throttles praise. Proverbs 14:30 warns us that; “Envy rots the bones.” I sure don’t need any more deterioration in that area. Envy corrodes the heart and distorts all motivation. Envy led Cain to kill his brother, Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery, and the priests and Pharisees to betray Christ. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice”(James 3:16).

How should I handle envy? Just stop moaning and face the facts? Okay, but a little help please. Fortunately God has promised help. “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you….I will carry you.” (Isaiah 46:4).

How will He sustain us? By His Spirit who lives within us. As we live in dependence on the Spirit, He will replace envy and all the dark machinations of the sinful nature with the loving fruit of the Spirit. (See Gal. 5:19-26.) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy”(1 Cor. 13:4). Do I love young people? Do I love those who can do what I can’t do? Can I give thanks to God for all I was able to do when I was younaging handg and all that others are now able to do?

As we yield to the Spirit, he will help us, on the one hand, to face reality without losing hope. We live in a fallen world among dying people. As the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there will come a time; “when strong men stoop [arthritis], when the grinders cease because they are few, [loss of teeth], and those looking through the windows grow dim; [poor eyesight], when…the sounds of grinding [of a mill] fades [hearing weakens] …and desire no longer is stirred [libido dwindles]”(Eccl. 12:3,4,5).

Even as the Spirit enables us to face the facts, He counters morbidity by giving us a vision of eternity. Although, “all men are like grass…the grass withers and the flowers fall;” yet of believers in Jesus it is said, “You have been born again, not of  perishable seed but imperishable”(1 Peter 1:24, 23). Our soul will pass through the vale untouched by mortality. Jesus will welcome us to our eternal home where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev. 21:4). This hWalking stickeavenly vision, through the Spirit, will counter our natural tendency to become grouchy, and sad. And in the process, we may be able to encourage the younger generation to cherish their health and the opportunities for service it provides. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, I find no pleasure in them”(Eccl.12:1).

I’ll intersperse future blogs about bear sightings and growing where we’re planted with several more meditations on aging.