November 2012

Contentment is a matter of perspective

There is a classic Yiddish folktale of a poor man living in a crowded one room hut with his wife and five children. Against his will his mother-in-law comes to live with them. He tries to cope but the noise and cramped conditions wear him down to the point where he goes to the local rabbi seeking counsel. The rabbi, upon listening intently and pausing to reflect for a moment asks “Do you have a rooster?” “Yes,” replies man. “Then bring the rooster into the hut with you and come and see me in a week.”

A week later after enduring even worse conditions, the man returns complaining to the rabbi. “Do you have a cow?” the rabbi asks.”Yes” the man replies hesitantly. “Then take your cow into the hut as well, and come see me in a week.”

Over the next several weeks, the man, on the discomfiting advice of the rabbi, adds into his increasingly chaotic little hut his goat, pig, two dogs and his brother’s children. Finally, at wits end, when he can take it no longer, he goes to the rabbi. “This is crazy! It’s not working, things are only getting worse!” “Good then,” said the rabbi. “Now kick all the animals out and send the guests home – come back and see me in a week.”

Upon doing this the man reported back to the rabbi. “It’s wonderful, Rabbi, my home is so spacious and quiet – why I don’t even mind having my mother-in-law live with us now. I can’t believe it.”

I was first introduced to this delightful story as retold by Margot Zemach in her beautifully illustrated children’s book entitled “It Could Always Be Worse” when my children were little. It became one of my favorite books and I loved reading it over and over to them. The tale’s message about contentment is so simple and yet so profound.

Contentment is basically a matter of perspective and therefore something that can be learned.

Not surprisingly this is exactly what the Apostle Paul says about his quest for contentment in the midst of difficult circumstances in his own life. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” he says. (Philippians 4:11)

Why is it so difficult to believe God?

More frequently than I care to admit I am perplexed at how persistent unbelief is in my life. One would think that a person after 40 plus years of seeing God’s faithfulness would have this believing God thing down. But annoyingly there are still things that come along that have a way of derailing me from the track of faith.

Recently I was talking to a spiritual mentor about this. He is a person more than a decade older than myself whose life has been an inspiration of faith, particularly in the area of faith for finances. If I were to compare his exploits of faith to mine I could easily end up feeling like a doubting Thomas. I was surprised to hear him tell me that there are yet times when he finds himself struggling to believe God in the very realm he has experienced his greatest triumphs, the realm of finances. As we compared notes we discovered that each of us has our own respective and recurring Achilles heels of doubt and unbelief. That fact certainly frames the question – why is it so difficult to believe God?

There is no path.

We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV)

A number of years ago I was with a group of men and we were seeking God for direction about a critical decision one of the guys had to make. Like most of us he wanted assurance from God that the path he was about to choose to walk would take him safely to where he wanted to go.

As we prayed a man in the group had a vision. The Lord showed him a deep chasm with a primitive rope suspension bridge linking the two sides. The man seeking direction was standing with great trepidation on one precipice poised to begin traversing the narrow bridge. The problem facing him was that there were no wooden slats in the walkway portion of the bridge except for the one slat immediately in front of him upon which to take his first step out over the edge. In the vision the man summoned all the faith he could and stepped onto the first slat. No sooner had he placed his full weight on that slat when immediately a second slat appeared in front of him. As he took a step onto that board and transferred his weight fully to it, another one appeared in front of that one. He was elated. But then he realized that with each step forward onto an appearing slat, the one behind him was disappearing as it fell away.

I’m giving it ten minutes.

I’m giving it ten minutes. Simply starting a postponed project is usually more than half the battle. So I am committing to sitting at my computer keyboard for a mere ten minutes to see if I can at least start to write something. Here goes.

It has been nearly a month since my last blog post. My prolonged silence has been more lack of motivation than anything else. It is not as if I have had nothing to write about. An active thought life and daily experiences continually supply fodder for this writer’s rumination. And it is not as if I have been too busy, which is a common laundry basket in which we throw all our dirty little excuses. No, truth be told, I simply have not as the saying goes “gotten around to it.”

It raises an important question. Why is it often so difficult to overcome inertia, to get something rolling, when that something is the very thing that in the doing causes a person to derive great benefit and satisfaction? One answer is procrastination. Procrastination is a ten dollar word describing how we’re duped into replacing high priority, high return tasks with low priority, minimal return actions. In the financial world, and yours and my world for that matter, such careless investment is a projection for loss. Loss of progress, benefit to others, self satisfaction and respect

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