Monday, November 14, 2011

Reflections on Busy-ness

When Kevin prepared to deploy, I got a lot of advice. One of the most common pieces of advice I heard was, "Get busy, and stay busy." The implication was that if I was busy enough, I wouldn't have the time to laze about eating copious amounts of chocolate, weeping over every bite in misery. And while that may be true, I've found that busy-ness isn't really an ideal way to live life, in any circumstance.
When I am busy, I tend to have a single track mind. Eyes set on the goal, blinders up. So whether I'm at work or running errands or shopping with my sister, I'm focused on the task at hand, and possibly evaluating the next task to be conquered. Suddenly, I'm accomplishing an entire week's worth of events in one day! After about a month of this, I have a headache most of the day, my stomach is in constant rebellion, and sleep is elusive. Well, this is not better than desperately missing my husband.

The problem is that we were not designed to live in such a state of constant movement. As Dr. Archibald Hart, author of The Anxiety Cure puts it, "your mind and body were designed for camel speed. Your life is moving at the speed of a cheetah. No wonder you're having anxiety attacks" (Hart, 2001). Cheetah speed is not sustainable without doing significant damage to one's mind, body and spirit. We need to be quiet, to be still. We need rest, even when we are afraid of might come out of taking such time to rest.

The question then becomes, what can I do while I'm resting in order to be sure I don't slide into that dark abyss of loneliness, fear, and general self-pity? Even though doing while resting seems contradictory, I'd contend that not living like a cheetah does not mean ceasing to move altogether. The comparison is camels and cheetahs; just move a little slower. I appreciate the reminder of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. So even in this circumstance, the endeavors of my life ought to be to glorify God and to enjoy Him.

With the risk of sounding heretical, I've revamped a few of the passages that help me to focus on the truth and have true rest in my spirit: 

Glorify God:
"For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, even this deployment: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Romans 11:36). "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.... Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, even though you are without your husband, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 6:20; 10:31). "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, including me and my husband, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

And enjoy Him forever:
"The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot during all seasons of life, including this deployment. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel, even though I don't love this situation: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the LORD always before me, and particularly during those lonely nights: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psalm 16:5-11). "Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD, because this truth extends beyond circumstance" (Psalm 144:15). "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid of being alone, of losing my love: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation ( Isaiah 12:2) "Rejoice in the Lord alway, even if this doesn't seem like a season full of joy: and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4).

So instead of getting busy, I allow myself to rest. I am enjoying the blessings of the Lord, because I enjoy the Lord, and trust Him with my heart and my husband. And I believe that even in this simple shift, I glorify God.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reflections on Contentment

On the morning of February 16, 2011, two days after Valentine's Day and five days before my husband left on his 365 deployment, I read this devotional by Charles Hadden Spurgeon:
" I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." - Phillipians 4:11 (KJV)

"These words show us that contentment is not a natural propensity of man. 'Ill weeds grow apace.' Covetousness, discontent, and murmuring are as natural to man as thorns are to the soil. We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough, because they are indigenous to earth: and so, we need not teach men to complain; they complain fast enough without any education. But the precious things of the earth must be cultivated. If we would have wheat, we must plough and sow; if we want flowers, there must be the garden, and all the gardener's care. Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us. Paul says, "I have learned... to be content;" as much as to say, he did not know how at one time. It cost him some pains to attain to the mystery of that great truth. No doubt he sometimes thought he had learned, and then broke down. And when at last he had attained unto it, and could say, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content," he was an old, grey-headed man, upon the borders of the grave - a poor prisoner shut up in Nero's dungeon at Rome. We might well be willing to endure Paul's infirmities, and share the cold dungeon with him, if we too might by any means attain unto his good degree. Do not indulge the notion that you can be contented with learning, or learn without discipline. It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. We know this from experience. Brother, hush that murmur, natural though it be, and continue a diligent pupil in the College of Content." (Begg, 2003, p.16).

These words came at a significant moment in my life. Three months earlier, my husband came home with news I'd vainly hoped I'd never hear: it was his turn for a yearlong deployment. When I married him in 2007, I had a vague awareness that someday we would be forced to weather a deployment. When he left for two months in 2009, I felt like that was good enough; I didn't need any more experience with marital separation. But in November 2010, the process of preparing for a year apart began, despite my best efforts to convince God that there were better ways for us to spend our time.

In the months leading up to my husband's departure date, I came to appreciate Spurgeon's exhortation that "We need not sow thistles and brambles; they come up naturally enough" (Begg, 2003). As I adjusted to the reality of a year without my husband, thistles of bitterness and brambles of discontent sprouted and began to grow in my mind, without any prompting or encouragement. Every time my husband had to work late, I grumbled my way through the evening, thinking, "As if they can't do without him. He's so critical to the mission. What about me?" In my mind, I was becoming like a petulant child, whining over every little thing that didn't go her way. As we got closer and closer to that inevitable day, it became more and more difficult for me not only to deny his departure, but also to enjoy our remaining moments together.

We took a vacation in January 2011, one last opportunity for us to be alone and focused entirely on each other before he left. As we lay on the beach in Cozumel, I somehow felt awashwith peace. Despite the thicket of bitterness that had been growing, I was reminded of all of the reasons I married my husband, and all of the ways he matched me like a perfect puzzle piece. We began to discuss how we could stay close while we were physically so far apart. God used those days to begin showing me what contentment really is: a choice.

In Philippians 4:11, the Apostle Paul says he has "learned to be content in whatever circumstances" he encountered (New American Standard Version). The word content means "to be independent of extrenal circumstances." I started to see that my contentment in life didn't have to depend on my husband being in the same room with me. My contentment didn't have to hinge upon where I lived, who I lived with, where I work or didn't work, or any other external thing. My contentment is sourced in God's constancy. My husband's love is a shadow of the love God has for me, which means it is reliable, deep and lasting.

And so, on February 16, 2011, as I faced the final days of time with my love, I could appreciate the truth that I was in the process of learning to be content. It wouldn't come without endless nights of tears or days that seemed to never end. It wouldn't come without endless nights of tears or days that seemed to never end. It wouldn't come without painful reminders of what I was missing. It wouldn't come without a constant ache of loneliness present in quiet moments when the knowledge of being apart from my husband reverberated through every part of my body. And yet, somehow, it would come. Even though it certainly felt like the deployment experience was going to be a cold, dank dungeon, lingering just beyond the present moment was the promise of warmth, comfort and joy.  

Begg, A. 2003. Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on The Holy Bible English Standard Version by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.