Fostering Contentment/Enduring Suffering with Courage

April 28, 2012

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[My mom came on Thursday to take care of Piggle so I could re-organize my kitchen. It didn’t get cleaned, but it did get some new storage]

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I’ve blogged in the past about the idea of fostering contentment in everyday life. This year, I’ve attempted to write regular blog posts on that topic with limited success either because of my own laziness or perhaps something bigger. This issue is probably the single most defining “meta” narrative in my life right now. What is the line between discontentedness and the experience of real suffering?

I don’t want to trivialize great suffering by calling what might be a sin-borne malaise “real” suffering, but the question has arisen in my mind again and again – especially during this past season of Lent – and I have found comfort in the same things which must be the comfort of anyone experiencing great suffering who wishes to become or remain close to our Lord. I will touch on these things.

If you read this, you will know that we’re currently in a season of poverty. Monetary poverty. It has been a long season and it has not abated with the finding of a “better job.” I have long since begun to question the use of that phrase because of the connotations it has which have only brought on heartache when each new “better job” on the horizon has not panned out. As I’ve told of before, this poverty isn’t solely brought on by a lack of income but compounded by my huge student loan debt and the consequent snowball effect of continuing to remain in debt. I could write a whole post about assuming private loans for your education. If you happen to be pre-college I would urge you just to take responsibility into your own hands and at least find out exactly what you will be facing when you graduate.

Anyway, this poverty of pocket has necessitated a poverty of spirit in so many ways – the most recent of which was our need to accept large sums of money from our parents in the form of loans and gifts in order to get us out of our immediate danger. We are so grateful and humbled by this answer to our prayer, but it wasn’t an answer I wanted. You know how hard it is to accept gifts like that because it just makes you realize how little control you really have over your life. Why do we make such a big deal of gifts of money and trivialize the gifts of love and forgiveness we constantly receive and don’t merit?

Add to this the lost, or imagined, job opportunity in Wisconsin and all the imagined losses connected with that, I started to fixate on the idea of living on my grandparents’ property in semi-rural NW Indiana again. I really should dig up the footage I took of that place 6 years ago and show it to you. It’s for sale now and my dad seems pretty wrapped up in getting it sold as quickly as possible. It’s hard to face the the fact that in a day this place that’s been a part of my entire life could belong to someone else and I have no power to stop it. There aren’t any apparent jobs in LaPorte or Valpo or Rolling Prairie for Henry and with almost no savings and a huge debt load, we aren’t in a position to buy it. And even if we were: do I want to live in that house? Do I want to start over in my home town where I haven’t lived in 12 years? I have the dubious luxury of not having to answer those questions.

The day to day grind of my life is where this all comes to a head at least once a week. I have a 15 month old who is the joy of my life but very active and needing of my energy and attention. I am halfway to having two boys [unbelievable!] and therefore more tired and emotional than otherwise. [Have I mentioned him here yet? I don’t think so! Wyatt John Robert is due to come to us on September 11th, 2012]. Cleaning, cooking, taking Piggle to play at the park and trying to get in a little bit of exercise and then collapsing at 8:30 every night is about all I can manage but my soul doesn’t exactly thrive on that. I need creativity! I need to be able to dream – and not {as I constantly fear} fruitlessly! I need times of connection with friends and time to myself to recuperate. [It sometimes feels like an extra burden to be a Introvert momma. It’s easier to fit in time with other moms. It’s not easy to explain sometimes that I just need time to recuperate. Alone. For extraverts – whom I love – time with others IS recuperation time] Is it our poverty which makes my life feel like a drag? Or is it my attitude? A little of both? Is it the nature of parenthood that is a exercise in spiritual discipline and therefore a kind of suffering we bear because we love our children and want to be close to them and because we love God and want to obey Him? I think yes. Or is it the things I choose to listen to and watch and look at which foster a discontentment about my life how it is now? I think, also, yes. Can it be fixed by taking pride in what I have and in making do and in cleaning it and making our dinners with love and to the best of my ability? Sometimes! Is it still super hard? Yes.

I think I am tempted to look at my life and say about it: “this [my lack of a cleaning lady; my poverty; my lack of a career; my lack of money for a babysitter; etc] could have been avoided if…” I can see that from the perspective of the world [which at times I embrace without realizing it] my life looks like what you should avoid if you can. Kitchen drudgery. Barefoot and pregnant and poor. Living off of the leavings of those more fortunate. No money for smart haircut upkeep and therefore frustrating hair [okay, that one is just petty, but it frustrates me]. Kids coming in shorter intervals than is generally culturally acceptable + the intention to allow more children into our family and possibly at whatever timing our bodies choose. I could go on… I have had various reactions to this state of affairs of late. I drank deeply at our Lenten sermon series:

The Spiritual Disciplines You Didn’t Choose

Beginning Reconciliation

Living Reconciliation

More Than Enough: One Boy’s Story

What To Look For In Life

First Emptied, Then Exalted

Most of these sermons were about the cross. About how Christ’s glory was His death – which we tend to skip over as quickly as possible – about how if we don’t get that, we will misunderstand and be disappointed by life. They were about how Christianity is the only religion with a suffering God – a God who chose to come to us and suffer like we suffer and ultimately assume upon Himself ultimate suffering for our sake so that those in need can’t help but find comfort in the image of Christ on the cross – even when they don’t yet believe. I have. I do all the time. But the sermons were about how that’s not where it ends for us as followers of Christ. We are called to follow Him in His glory: His death; to live under His cross and thereby undergo an overhaul of our priorities. I also learned to look at the cross with a new understanding – that Christ’s was an act of great courage. The greatest act of courage. That I can approach my own little sufferings in the same manner.

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[Our living room, newly re-situated]

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[My newly organized craft-supply hallway]

Where does this all leave me? Well, most days just tired. Some days I am really quite joyful and happy. Some days I have cried a lot and gotten prayer and good advice from friends. I haven’t really drawn a hard line between discontentment and suffering yet. I just know that when I am in the midst of neglecting my duties to re-watch the entire Friday Night Lights series [or something like that…you know…just a random example] I tend to feel a wee bit discontent. Here’s some good input from wise friends:

God’s blessings and answers to prayer don’t always make things “easier.” Life is just hard. It will always be hard in some ways. God’s blessings [children being a prime example] often require a lot of upkeep.

I am grieving right now. I am still grieving the passing of my grandparents. This is particularly true of my Grandma Swank. I am grieving for her in a way I haven’t experienced grief. It is more continual and I haven’t yet learned to accept the reality of her death the way I did more quickly with the passing of my grandfathers. I miss her in a viscerally. It requires tears and verbal remembrance of her life. The loss of her land is all mixed up with the loss of her person, the loss of my childhood, the grief over the fact that there were better decisions I could have made in the past about my college education and “career,” and the continual necessity of having to give my dreams and hopes for the future – including all I daydreamed I might do on that land – to the Lord and cede any power I might try to grab.

Here’s a word to me from God. As an aside I must assert that I have come to know Him as a better and better friend. That I, like the disciples, often find myself saying, “where else do I have to go?” In light of Easter; in light of the Resurrection:

“I want to give you your heart’s desire. You wouldn’t have those desires if I hadn’t put them there. I WILL fulfill my own desires. You can know this because I have given you the greatest gift I had to give already: Jesus. And you are my heir as surely as He is my heir.”

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5 Responses to “Fostering Contentment/Enduring Suffering with Courage”

  1. kurtbullis Says:

    Thanks for this post, Jenn. So good, so good to hang with you and Hank last night. Miss you guys imensely. What a great life we could lead supporting each other (babysitting swaps) if it could actually work out for us to live near each other. Thanks for the fantastic soup and bread.

  2. trynsimple Says:

    I can’t believe my husband didn’t tell me about this post! I found it on my own and have also been incredibly blessed. You are a gifted mom, wife, artist, etc. and I am blessed to know you. And I have been rolling so many similar thoughts around my mind lately: the challenges of being an introvert mom, what constitutes suffering, how do I grab what God is offering over what I want to daydream about, etc. Thank you for beautifully writing your thoughts. What a gift.

  3. Emily Barton Says:

    Jenn, I loved this post and can so identify. I must say, as far as my own experience goes, you are in the middle of the most difficult time of parenting in so many ways. It is extremely demanding to have one child–even when he lights up your life! It is just intense in a way that it will not be intense again, when numbers two, three, and who knows how many follow along. In a very real way, the children begin to minister to their siblings and so much pressure is taken off of you to be the sole “everything”. And it is a win-win, because the eldest often seems to *love* the responsibilities that can come as he increases in maturity and position in the family. My Jude is never more motivated than when he is whipping up some scrambled eggs for the fam or putting a breakfast casserole in the oven on Sunday morning. (as with everything, this responsibiliy-giving can be overdone and I watch out for times when it seems we have given him too much too fast; but by and large his maturity and growth is a blessing to us and brings him new “jobs”, which he loves.
    Now this is all well and good, you might say; but you have a toddler not a teenager! So true. Is there anyone you love and trust with whom you might switch off babysitting every other week? I saw taryn mention this above, but I know she’s too far away. But maybe you could find someone nearby who is up for switching off one morning each week. I saw spoiled during this period, as I had family nearby; but a little time off for some creative endeavors. (this even takes some doing! I remember I used to get so depressed because I would take a morning “off” and would spend it cleaning my house!!! Aaah, it is an intense time. And it is marked by suffering, I would say. Even if you would have it no other way, it *is* suffering.
    And what I want to end with is this: as far behind as you may feel (and regretful, in a way) on the finances thing, you are (judging from your writing and what I know to be true of you) way ahead of things in terms of developing a family home life and having a vision for the family culture that you and Henry want to create as you grow. You certainly are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were at that age! So i hope when those “woulda shouldas” creep into your mind as pertains the financial stuff that you may nonetheless rest in the fact that you have a real vision for bigger-picture things because those (though the finances are obviously tangible and important) are truly more important. And frankly, I think you can’t ignore the fact that you are “suffering” because of the vision that God has given you for your developing family culture. You are not mainstream. If you were, then the loans would not be a problem; you would simply be out working (and putting gilead in childcare) to pay them off. That is what most do, and why no one tells 18 yr old women to carefully consider academic/professional choices in light of the motherhood decisions they may want to make. Moreover, in a very real way (basic supply and demand here–not making any judgments on the feminist movement) the fact that most women work means that male wages are depressed because the supply of workers is a multiple of what it would be if women all stayed home with their children. And don’t get me started on home prices, which are driven by two-income families that can afford to push up sales prices because both spouses are working. So your suffering is, in a very real way, less about a purported poor financial choice and more about a very good and important choice that will shape your family culture for life and significantly affect for eternity those beautiful children with whom God has blessed (and is blessing!) you. (sometimes for me, to remember that suffering is for a purpose, allows me to gird my loins in a way!) love you, Jenn. I think you are doing an amazing job!

    • jswankdesigns Says:

      Emily, there aren’t words. You have no idea how I needed to hear these things. Thank you.

  4. Emily Barton Says:

    Hey sorry about the typos (i meant to write “i *was* spoiled, and at another point part of a whole sentence was chopped off); I typed this on my phone and it doesn’t allow me to reread before I post……also wanted to add that you inspire me on the craft corner idea. All I am managing right now is a knitting project, and that is because it is easy, portable, and small! I want to get my sewing in order so I can actually get it out once in a while. Love to you!!!


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