It started out as a typical summer day. The sun came up. The sky was blue. The kids were eating their morning cereal.
But this wasn’t your typical summer day. This was the start of family vacation. As we packed our suitcases and coolers into our cars my mother-in-law looked over at me with a smile. It was a smile she always seemed to wear. “Remember, Justin. Your only job on this vacation is to make me laugh.”
“Is there anything else I need to do,” I asked?
“No. That’s it. Just make sure I laugh.”
On another summer afternoon I took the opportunity to mow my grandmother’s grass. About 2/3 of the way through she came out to interrupt me. “Why in the world is my grandmother interrupting me right in the middle of mowing the grass,” I thought to myself.
“Hey, there’s a riding mower in the garage. Would that have saved you some time,” she asked?
“Ummmm…yeah, that would’ve saved me a good hour or more! But I’ve done almost all of the flat part of the yard now, so I can’t use it.”
“OK, well go ahead and finish up and then we can sit out on the porch and talk for a while.”
“Well, I really should get home to my family sometime soon.”
“I won’t keep you too long. But let’s spend at least a little bit of time catching up.”
On yet another summer morning, I remember having breakfast with Megan’s grandparents. As we ate breakfast they were sure to ask the the normal questions.
“How are others in your family doing?”
“How is everything at the church?”
“How is that car of yours running?”
And as we began to clean up and get ready for the drive home, Gram had one final thing to say to me.
“You take good care of that bride of yours, you hear?”
These are three simple memories I have of three women who had a tremendous influence in my life. One was my mother-in-law, who passed away earlier this year in February. Another was my grandmother, who passed away shortly after my mother-in-law. And another was my grandmother-in-law, who passed away in April.
Each spoke of and received love in different ways.
One wanted to laugh.
Another wanted time.
Another wanted to know her family was being well cared for.
Laughter. Time. And Care.
That’s all they wanted.
They didn’t want nicer houses, cars, cell phones, or anything else. They simply wanted laughter, time and care. But they didn’t see it that way. They saw it as love. They simply felt and received it in different ways.
How many of us want exactly what they wanted, we just keep looking for it in all the wrong places? We want to know and experience love, yet we try to find it outside of relationships with others.
Maybe if I have a nicer home. Or car. Or shoes. Or a TV. Or a…(you fill in the blank.)
But we keep looking. We keep searching. Contentment runs dry. And the ‘stuff’ we own never brings us the joy we think it will.
This line of thinking always leads me to Philippians 4:13. This passage is quite possibly the most misrepresented verse in all of the Bible. It reads:
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
But this passage isn’t about having the ‘strength’ to do really, hard, challenging tasks. It isn’t about climbing mountains, white water rafting, or running a marathon. It’s about contentment. Read this passage again, but in the context of the few verses before it.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)
You see, this passage is about contentment, not strength.
These three wonderful ladies who influenced my life so much, they were content with many things in their lives. They no longer cared about ‘stuff’, but about family. They cared about people. They cared about relationships.
This week, take some time to think about your level of contentment. Are you content with what you have? Are your thoughts for ‘stuff’ consuming you? Or are you simply looking to know and experience love from others? Think — What exactly is it that you need in order to experience contentment on a regular basis?
That’s a challenging question, isn’t it?
But don’t stop there.
Take purposeful opportunities this week to bring others to laughter. Take purposeful opportunities to spend time with them. Take purposeful opportunities to show that you care for them and their family. Provide them with laughter, time and care. Make lasting memories with the people you truly care about.
Who knows? You may just find that contentment isn’t going to be found in what you don’t have.
It’s all around you.