A Cat’s Contentment

At the request of my friend’s daughter, I snapped a few portraits of her treasured cat, Hobbes, sleeping contentedly on the sofa. He is so golden, he almost seemed to glow in the bit of sunlight streaming in the window.
IMG_4910eCats are satisfied with so little. Content to prowl around outside, content to come in and doze on the sofa or a bed, content with enough food, content with something as simple as a shred of paper to play with, content with a little affection and a little sunlight. Cats demand very little. A stroke on their cheek and a rumbling purr resonates.

Yet we human creatures are never content. We are always seeking lustfully after the next fad, the newest this or that, the best of this or that.  We desire the next adventure, the best experience. So much of our culture and our industries are built on discontentment. Magazines like House Beautiful capitalize on people’s discontent with their home decor and wall color choices. Travel magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in where we are and what we can afford to do. Women’s magazines fuel and are fueled by discontent in my body, my clothes, my house, my family, my life, my kitchen, my husband.

I’m speaking in pretty broad terms here, and don’t misunderstand me as condemning various publications or condemning the idea of taking a vacation. Because I’m not.  But if we were content with what we had and only ever bought what we needed, and not what we lusted after, our whole economy would come crashing down. There’s nothing wrong with the new pair of shoes or the vacation or the nicer car or new paint on the walls. There is nothing wrong with beautifying one’s home or enjoying good food. We just need to be aware of our sinful human tendency to think that those things will bring lasting satisfaction. We mistakenly think that we will be better satisfied by a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the Caribbean than by warming our fingers around a mug of hot tea, basking in the sunlight and reading our favorite book. Human beings are restless, discontent creatures, seeking satisfaction from things and experiences rather than seeking satisfaction in God’s provision for us. The modest plenty we have never seems to satisfy.

King Solomon, as well as other proverb writers and God Himself frequently drew lessons of one sort or another through considering God’s Creation. In the Book of Job, God reminds Job of His greatness and majesty by bringing to Job’s mind numerous creatures which God created and sustains, and which humans can’t even come close to understanding. Lessons and encouragement are learned and gained through considering characteristics of God’s creatures, how He cares for His non-human Creation, the instincts He gave to His animal creatures, and so on. In Proverbs 6, Solomon writes the following:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.

Consider the cat, then, and be content.

Heavenward

I walk the woods in the evening – my woods, I tell myself – the familiar trails, dear to me and near to my heart, winding through old creekbeds, beneath towering pines and wizened oaks, along hillsides sparkling with white chokecherry blossoms. Treading the same way again, my heart thrills. Each step is a delight. Each breath of the cool evening air tastes sweet. I want to pour the coolness over my head and drink of the freshness. It is familiar, so familiar, every step is one I’ve experienced before, each tree and flower and perfume of evening – but it is new, always new.
IMG_7227eWith the earth comforting beneath my feet, grasses growing tall to above knee-height, trees leafing out in their array of green, my heart is drawn upwards, Heavenwards. These woods are my sanctuary. I find that my time alone while hiking becomes my time alone with the LORD, since I can’t imagine walking these woods and not being struck to the heart by how good God must be to have created so much beauty for us to enjoy. He didn’t need to create beauty. God could have allowed sin to completely wipe out the beauty on this earth. But He didn’t. And it is wonderful. Even in this fallen state, His beauty is reflected in His Creation.
IMG_7015eMy heart breaks with joy. Have you ever felt that? My heart breaks and soars, and I murmur Oh, my! Again and again. Oh, my. My eye is drawn here and there – to a splash of color from a larkspur violet or a shooting star or a bluebell, to the wild white and lavender of crazyweed, to the little golden blossoms of wild currant or the coral of columbine or the dark blue-eyed grass, or the pale birch trees on a north-facing hillside of emerald moss. A gleam of sunlight through the trees on the next hilltop melts me, but I know my camera couldn’t do it justice, so I don’t even try. My heart breaks with joy – there is too much, too much, too much. How can a human creature take in so much beauty and goodness and majesty, and not be overwhelmed? And if I cannot understand Creation, how can I possibly understand its God?
IMG_7150eThe too-familiar sights, the amber scents of pine resin and the fresh earthy perfume of green life or the sweet evening air, the lullaby of wind in the pines – so many memories and impressions left over, brought back by glimpses or tastes of the familiar, the familiar that never seems to change. I remember my childhood, our visits here, my heart’s longing for this place. I remember past joys, and revel in present joys. Then my heart breaks with grief. Because I know that one day this place won’t be here for me. One day it will be sold and divided into lots and developed, and I weep at that thought, dropping tears on the grassy path. How harsh it feels – to be brought to live in the place I love most in the world, but knowing that it may not be here, a mere few years from this time. This place may only be land, and I know that, but it holds and brings back so many wonderful memories. It is a place that is part of my childhood, part of my dearest memories.
IMG_7156eThen I repent. How could I have the audacity to challenge God’s goodness and His Providence by weeping over what He may someday in His sovereignty take away from me? If that day comes, I don’t believe tears will be wrong, but weeping now and letting even a moment of joy be spoiled by what God may in His love give to me or take from me – that is wrong. I pray for contentment and peace in my knowledge that God is good. I remind myself that God only does that which is for the good of His children and for His glory. I remind myself that He only gives good gifts, and He is a loving Father, not a cruel taskmaster. If a gift is good in the giving, it is also good when He in His sovereignty removes it. If He removes a blessing and strips me of something I sinfully think is necessary for my happiness, I know He does it for my good, not to punish. If He takes something from me that I love, He does it for my good, not out of malice. Whether or not I comprehend it, it is for my good. At the very least, pain allows me to experience the sweetness of God’s comfort. One day, I’ll understand. But for now I need to be content to not understand and to take comfort in the things I do understand – that God is a loving God, a generous God, a compassionate and comforting God – and He always provides. Not necessarily how I in my humanness want Him to provide, certainly, but if God is good, His Providence is as well, and I cannot challenge it.  And so even in my tears, I thank Him. Even in my tears, this place draws me Heavenward. And then my heart lifts and I savor a soul-deep peace, content to enjoy however many days and years I have left to enjoy this. Few or many, they are a gift. How sad to spoil them with misplaced regret.
IMG_7182eThe low rumble of distant thunder tells of a coming storm, and the clouds are bright in the west, shining flame-like through the trees. The crimson and coral turn to slate and blue. The golden sunlight disappears beyond the horizon and banks of heavy clouds. The rain will come.
IMG_7223eHow can I not gaze Heavenward?

Taking Time to Wander

IMG_8964Time is a commodity everyone is short on.  We live in a rat’s race pace, perpetually scraping for “more time”, but never feeling like we find it.  And all for what? A few more dollars in the bank? A few more stamps in the passport? A few more parties, pleasures, possessions? People spend their healthy days working themselves to death in the hopes that they’ll still be healthy enough when they retire to enjoy the things they didn’t enjoy when they were younger.

IMG_8948Now, I don’t for a minute think that the end goal of life is enjoyment or pleasure – I believe God put each of us on this earth with a purpose, that purpose being first and foremost to glorify Him. I believe our lives should be useful lives, seeking to serve and bless other people. This is something I’m still working on myself, trying to figure out. But even while I believe that pleasure isn’t the goal of life, I believe that God made this world beautiful for His glory and our enjoyment, and I don’t think nearly enough people are willing to enjoy it, or give themselves the time to enjoy it, or have the eyes to enjoy it, or to enjoy the deeper significance of the beauty of this world. Our culture has created a mindset towards work and daily life that makes it difficult to enjoy the good things God has created, the things that can’t be bought and paid for.

I think this is ultimately an issue of purpose, of spiritual purpose.

IMG_9002Of course I understand that our culture is far from being Christian anymore – Our culture is actively rejecting any concept that is remotely Christian, but by rejecting God and the Gospel we haven’t just lost our faith or our adherence to some “strict moral code,” as some would like to argue. By losing our Christian worldview and our Christian identity, we’ve lost our purpose, our identity that goes deeper than our job title, the dollar amount on our paycheck, the neighborhood we live in, or the prestigious way we spend our free time. We are forever hungering for something we think we can buy with money, but can only be gained with spiritual eyes and a new heart. We’ve lost the joy of contentment.

IMG_8973We’ve lost the ability to appreciate God’s simple daily gifts and the significance of something as ephemeral as a rainbow, or a flower, or the way the sunlight strikes the mica-encrusted quarts.  We’ve lost our appreciation of beauty. And what slim appreciation of true beauty that there is becomes mired in the mindset of meaninglessness, all that there is in this world being the result of complicated and unexplained “natural processes”. Meaningless, everything is meaningless.

We have a nation that is sinking under a burden of vainly spent dollars, under a burden of depression and worry and jealousy and envy and pride and hate.  We have a culture of people who live with the constant reminder of what they can do, should do, or want to do, of what the human race can do, has done, will do, wants to do. We have a culture that wakes, eats, works, and sleeps surrounded by the fruit of man’s labors. Our culture is so bent on complicated pleasures, so bent on belongings and material wealth and security, that we as a culture have completely lost sight of the brimful storehouse of God’s goodness, manifested in His wonderful Creation, which are gifts that anyone can enjoy.

IMG_9030There is a whole world that exists outside of the city limits, above the light pollution, beyond the concrete, steel, brick, and glass of our world of industry. What if people could see and understand the significance of beauty?  What about the beauty of true and selfless relationships? What if people had a context in which to understand sorrow and grief and pain? What if people could be reminded of what God can do, has done, will do, and could see God’s fingerprints on every hill, rock, tree, flower, pebble, lake, and cloud? What if people could see God’s promises spelled out in His Creation? What if people could revel in the plenty of contentment? What wealth of soul that would produce! These are pleasures that cannot be bought with money, comforts that aren’t material, so to these we all have equal access. Even the poorest among us can be rich indeed, rich of soul. That is a richness that lasts.

IMG_8947This is a richness that begins, first and foremost, at the moment of Salvation. This is also an attitude of the heart that can be cultivated, and doesn’t require straying outside of the city limits (although it is easier to see God’s handiwork outside of man’s world). It is possible to train one’s eyes to see God’s fingerprints in the small and mundane things of life. It is possible for anyone, work-burdened, life-burdened, heart-burdened, or otherwise, to experience the joys of living, whether in the midst of difficulty or not. God gives these gifts. We have to be willing to see them.

IMG_8939How wonderful, then, is taking the time to wander and to wonder, taking the time to stray from the beaten path, to gaze on the obscured, to revel in the majesty of this beautiful world, knowing that this world, beautiful as it is, is just a washed-out, lesser, corrupt version of the wonderful world to come.

Laura Elizabeth