Monday, June 18, 2012

Wanted: Contentment Despite Uncertainty

Hey, this isn't a game!
Counting down the days leading up to a camping trip, I check the weather forecast constantly, several times a day, just to make sure rain is not in the forecast.  Who wants rain during a campout?  The internet is my enabler, I confess to looking at doppler radar images and not caring if anyone knows.  My obsession is worse now that I have a smart phone.  No matter where I am at, I can choose from either the Accuweather or Weather Channel app.

We see here from this silly example that uncertainty and I do not get along very well.  Unfortunately, if we quarrel over trivial things like weather, how much more do we fight over important things?  A lot more.

Uncertainty works very hard at trying to steal my contentment.   So hard, indeed, that choosing contentment is one of the hardest disciplines that I'm trying to develop (still a work in process).

Without intending to, I've ended up writing a three piece series about contentment.  Last week I wrote about contentment at play - that's easy.  Later, about self discipline to choose contentment at work - not as easy, but not that hard with some maturity.  This week, contentment despite uncertainty - very hard - because some opportunities came up to experience fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

Some persistent health issues and minor trials are all it took the past few days.  Nothing like an unplanned doctor visit to allow the worst case scenario imagination to run wild.  And once that was over, some nagging trials to remind me that not all is bliss.
Contentment = satisfaction (fulfilled desires, expectations, needs, or demands), ease of mind, not wanting more or anything else.
Uncertainty = unpredictability, indeterminancy, indefiniteness.
 In a manner of speaking, we're talking about seeking peace of mind despite the possibility that something, somewhere could go wrong at any moment.  Who needs rainy or hot camping trips when sickness, injury, and financial ruin might be around the corner?

So, where will you end up?  Poor Farm or
Millionaire Acres?  Are you sure?
The AFLAC rep that visits my workplace is very, very good at selling fear, uncertainty, and doubt (sometimes called FUD, pronounced "food").  A friend in the sales profession once told me that he is trained to sell FUD.  The AFLAC rep quotes statistics and cites examples  of those who have needed their hospital, accident, cancer, vision, dental, and disability plans.  Me, being the husband and family guy type, would like to buy insurance for everything.  Add up the premiums, though, and if I did buy insurance for everything, we wouldn't have much grocery money left.  I'd need to buy an anti-starvation policy (OK, not quite...)

What I've found, and perhaps you too, is that uncertainty cannot be eliminated.  Acknowledging that, perhaps it can be reduced to an acceptable level.  Some suggestions:

1.  Trust God who ordains the fear, uncertainty, and doubt as part of His plan of redemption.  Sounds crazy, I know.  But it's true.  Consider this:

This past weekend's church sermon was on Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? etc.)  King David's psalm about the pain of feeling abandoned by God (the original word for God is "el" meaning mighty one, strength) is also prophetic of Jesus's actually being abandoned by God (in this case, God the Father abandoning God the Son).  Uncertainty is the realization that bad things could happen to us, even without warning.  David writes about plenty of bad things in Psalm 22:  despised by people, his trust in God made fun of, surrounded by wild animals, strength gone, hands and feet pierced, his clothes gambled for.  It seems as if whatever could have gone wrong did.  That's pain.  

Despite the pain, David says, "Yet, you (God) are holy," and "But you, oh LORD, do not be far off."  We see that David asks God the tough question of "Why have you forsaken me," then, through remembering history, returns to understanding that God is a redeemer who acts.  We find that God does act, albeit not necessarily on our demand.

2.  Because we live in a fallen world with a lot of problems, God gives us wisdom and ability to prioritize our biggest risks and to somewhat minimize the consequences of those risks.  

We have a saying in our house, "protect the food supply."  Usually that means putting perishables into insulated bags or coolers when we are grocery shopping or camping, but protecting the food supply is true even on a larger scale.  Protecting the food supply also includes protecting the ability to buy food.  As a result, I have life insurance, we budget our income, we (try to) save for a rainy day, we're trying to negotiate the health care bureaucracy brought on by the government takeover of the system.  We see here the principle of how we cannot make all problems go away in this lifetime, but we can minimize the consequences - admittedly somewhat imperfectly.

3.  Continue to wrestle with the irony of number 1 above - God can and will act, albeit not necessarily on our demand.  Fear, uncertainty, and doubt exists because pain does exist and there is a gap between our asking and God's acting.  Pain especially exists for those who trust God, the Mighty Father.  Our church's prayer list of those with cancer is quite long, and that's just part of a longer list of those who are suffering.  I haven't even touched on the really tough stuff like abuse, persecution, government condoning of immorality, and more.  If God is all - powerful, why doesn't He do something - now!  That's what we see in Psalm 22, three cycles of questioning God then having faith in God.  

Pain and belief do indeed coexist.  The final words of Psalm 22 are, "they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it." (ESV)

As Paul writes about being persecuted for his faith in Philippians 4:11 - 13, he says, "...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need."  (also ESV)

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