Consenting to Reality
In her newest book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet, Shauna Niequist writes, “A wise friend of mine says that spiritual maturity is nothing more, nothing less, than consenting to reality” - a concept that sounds an awful lot like contentment to me - perhaps, because contentment is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. It’s also something Paul writes about a few times in his letters.
I Corinthians 7 doesn’t actually use the term “contentment” but in verse 17 Paul writes, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” (I Cor 7:17 ESV) Despite not using the word contentment, it seems clear to me that’s what Paul is referring to. Not contentment in the superficial sense - being grateful for my material possessions and not wishing for more - but a deep contentment of the soul.
Am I content in these circumstances, in this season, in this life God has given me? Or am I bitter and resentful of what others have that I do not - a job, perhaps? A relationship? A home? Am I holding my breath and wishing away the challenges or the loneliness of this particular season? Am I just waiting for this or that circumstance to change, to get easier?
The first time this verse stopped me in my tracks and asked me to confront these questions was a little over 6 years ago. For the vast majority of my life, everything I wanted, everything I worked for, came fairly easily. In high school I had great friends, made straight As, and served as student council president. Then I got into my top (and only) college choice where I was accepted into several selective student organizations and eventually met my husband whom I married a few months after graduation. After that, I got a job at my high school alma mater (despite being technically underqualified) and became a homeowner at 24. It all came quickly. Easily. And ultimately it was easy to take for granted.
But in January of 2016, my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Then in December of that same year, my oldest child, Max, was born. Then 30 minutes later he died. I found myself in a life I had never wanted, wishing desperately for a different one. Wishing I was a new mom caring for my son with Down syndrome - soaking in every coo, learning what his cries meant, losing myself in his almond eyes. Hating that instead I was a childless mother - healing from a c-section, waiting for my milk to dry out, waking in the night to my own cries instead of my son’s.
I found myself wishing away everything about that experience. Begruding my friends who had healthy and living babies at home. Looking at pregnant bellies with disdain, selfishly imagining a scenario where I could burst these expectant mom’s happy, naive bubbles. I would have given anything to fast forward through those earliest and ugliest days of my grief. To have never lived that particular life.
Six years have come and gone since that season of acute pain and deep disappointment. The shrieks and giggles of two healthy children, literally bursting at the seams with life, now fill my home. My days are long and full and exhausting and monotonous. I answer the same questions twenty times and hear “right, mom?” so often that my ears no longer register it as a question.
I have everything I longed for six years ago. I can see the absolute beauty and magic that fills my days. I am blessed beyond measure. But my story is complicated. This life God gave me contains ongoing pain. It is as if I walk through the world missing a limb - a constant awareness that something vital is missing; phantom pain breaking through when I least expect it.
But here, today, I am consenting fully to this reality. I am a tired mom of a three and five-year-old, who desperately misses my would-be-six-year-old. I spend my days working and writing, playing and teaching, cleaning and cleaning again. I am in a very specific and intense season. But a short season at that. My needs and wants and comforts are not a top priority. I say no to a lot of things so I can yes to my family. It would be easy to wish away these days, to spend my time dreaming of greater freedom and less snot and other bodily fluids.
Consenting to this reality really does looks a lot like contentment. I choose to be settled - right here, right now, in this home, in this body, with these people. I know things can and will change. God-willing, I’m not quite yet halfway through this life God has given me. Hopefully, there’s a lot of life yet to come - good parts, bad parts, mindnumbingly mediocre parts. Beautiful seasons, ugly seasons, complicated and confusing seasons. And my prayer, like the secret to contentment Paul lays out in Philippians 4, is that through Christ, I will daily continue to consent to this reality, to live fully in this life he has given me, and to become more like him in the process.