I have spent the last week vacationing in the Smoky Mountains with my family and some close friends. As I write this, I’m sitting in our shared cabin overlooking a beautiful property with a creek and a spring-fed pond. The property has no cell phone service, is surrounded by lush, green trees, and is a thirty minute drive to the nearest grocery store.
Between our families, there are four adults and ten children. Our children have had the time of their life racing around the property, paddle boating, and catching crawdads in the creek. It’s been an adventure, to say the least.
Moments like these are a gift, especially when you can get out of your head, lay your life down, and be available to the those around you. They are also challenging, as living together with another family brings out the selfishness in you. Despite our bad moments, we’ve been able to live peacefully, connecting with God and each other within the breathtaking canvas of creation.
A week in the smokies has me reminiscing. It also has me thinking about contentment, limitations (particularly within parenting), and gratitude. There’s nothing quite like breathing room to help you see things clearly.
Rachel and I have always loved the mountains. Fourteen years ago, while we were still dating, we spent a weekend in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park hiking, dreaming, and falling in love. Because we had such a great time, we returned two years later to get married and spend our honeymoon backpacking in the park. Our future was wide open and we spoke about it with eager expectation. We dreamed of children, ministry, and life together. We dreamed of owning a home in the mountains. More than anything, we were excited to see how God would work in our lives.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”– Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)
Being here has taught me some things about contentment. First, we have to find contentment in what we already have, not the things we believe will produce contentment once we have them. Many people live with an insatiable desire for material possessions or the fulfillment of a dream. Attaining our goals is not a bad thing. I have accomplished many goals and am thankful for the time I invested in them. The problem lays with believing the fulfillment of a dream or goal will provide contentment. If we live with such a worldview, our lives will be wasted. We will always chase the next goal. We will not learn how to be content with what we have.
Second, contentment can be found in embracing what you didn’t set out to accomplish. For instance, being a parent produces quite a bit of limitations. Before children, Rachel and I could hike strenuous mountains with epic views. We never imagined things would change. Now that we have young children, even small nature hikes can be a challenge. We have learned there is much joy in embracing our limitations by letting our children’s stage of life dictate our activities. I’m not saying they set the tone or direction of our home, but simply that their life stage determines the activities of our day.
For instance, they have played hard in the front of our cabin this week. We have spent time together with laughter instead of frustration. For the most part, we have traded our agenda of seeking epic mountain peaks, eating local cuisine, or visiting the highest rated coffee shops for catching crawdads in the creek next to our cabin. I believe the day for epic adventures will come, but today, we embrace our limitations and accept our season of life.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”– Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV)
I’m grateful for this season. I’m grateful for friends who vacation differently than us. I’m grateful for the mysterious ways our God works. I’m simply grateful.
Rachel and I have seen many of our dreams come to pass and many others go to be with the Lord. Though we haven’t won every battle, God has taught us that he is our greatest reward. He will never leave us or forsake us. Ultimately, God is the reason we can be content. His presence is the greatest blessing of all.
I’m 35 years old entering an unfamiliar season. I feel settled for the first time in my life. I have nothing to prove. Short of seeing my children walking with Christ, my wife growing perfectly into his image, and followers of Christ being made at our church, I feel content.
In some ways, I understand Paul more when he claimed to have the secret to contentment in any and all circumstances. It’s not about what you do. It’s not about where you’re from. It’s certainly not about what you own. It’s all about Jesus, whether life is good, bad or just plain different.
Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up and make the seven hour trip back to Missouri. I’m praying we’ll never lose sight of the purpose of it all.