Now is the winter of my discontent. Well, now. And yesterday. And the day before. And last month. And last spring. And okay all the way back to high school and college, if you want to get technical.
It’s also the season of Lent, which in the Episcopal Church is a time of reflection. Many people adopt a Lenten discipline, either taking on a practice (meditation, prayer, journaling, fasting) or giving up something perceived as a vice (chocolate, drinking, swearing, etc.).
I thought briefly about giving up or taking on something this Lent. And then I had a good laugh, because, really, I think I’ve taken on and given up quite enough in the last six months, thank you very much.
Given up a 17-year marriage. Given up the appearance that I have it all together. Taken on the stress of being a working single mother. Taken on the emotional task of learning to co-parent.
A friend of mine said my Lenten discipline should be to make a little mischief every day. I honestly don’t have the energy. Right now, all I can commit to is waking up every morning and doing the very best I can to make it through the day without running out of kindness and patience and without dropping the f-bomb in front of my children.
Some days I’m more successful at this than on others.
I did subscribe to a daily email series recommended by my church. It’s called “It’s time to…Stop, Pray, Work, Play and Love.” Like most non-essential activities in my life right now, it’s not gotten a lot of attention. The emails come daily to my inbox and sit there … unopened … mocking me.
One, however, caught my eye a few days ago. The subject line was, “Contentment – Brother, Give Us a Word.” I could see the first few lines of the message without opening the email. It read, “Are you content right now?”
What does it even mean to be content? I can’t remember a time I’ve achieved contentment. Especially not with the snow and ice and work and kids and laundry and errands and the smelly old dog who lives in my house and poops and pees everywhere … all the time.
I read on:
“One of the ancient words in the monastic vocabulary is contentment, which is incredibly counter-cultural. Contentment: from the Latin contentus, which means enough, it means sufficient. It’s the opposite of a kind of appetite of acquisition. But it’s rather saying: now is what is most important, not what is new but what is now. One of the downsides of this capacity we have to be virtually present all over the globe is distraction actually pulling us away from where we really are now. But the Psalm says, “Be still and know that I am God.” And the Psalm says, “My boundaries enclose a pleasant land.” Contentment is about staying where you are, looking at it more deeply and realizing with deep gratitude that this is enough, and for this I am thankful.” – Br. Curtis Almquist
All my life, I’ve tried to embrace living in the moment. I’ve given a lot of lip service to appreciating the “now,” but I’ve always had that appetite of acquisition. I lived life as a series of “when, thens.” When I have a certain job title and make enough money, then I’ll be content. When my daughter no longer has seizures, then I’ll be content. When my husband’s business is successful, then we’ll be content. When I move back to my hometown, then I’ll be content. When I can repair my broken relationships, then I’ll be content. When I get the hang of being a single working mother, then I’ll be content.
No wonder I experienced so much discontent. Contentment is not anything I can actually achieve. It’s something I just have to accept … and be.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a room full of women on top of Petit Jean Mountain. We spent the day in community, working on our own writing projects, mostly in silence, drawing strength and inspiration from being together.
On our way home, my traveling companions and I stopped at Camp Mitchell, the camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. I grew up at Camp Mitchell. My heart still leaps and my blood pressure still drops when I enter its gates. My muscles relax and tension oozes from my body. That day was no exception.
My sole reason for the visit was to sit and be still in the Chapel of the Transfiguration. The chapel looks like this:
And the view looks like this:
I sat on a bench, looking out over the cliffs. I watched the birds catch the wind and soar. I breathed peace in and exhaled anger out. I closed my eyes and felt the sun on my face for the first time in weeks. I sang hymns in my head, and I marveled at how lucky I was to be able to share this moment with my friends who were with me.
It’s easy to be content in the beautiful moments. In the real world, it’s harder to stay where I am and look at it more deeply. And to recognize with gratitude that right now is enough.
Here’s where I am right this moment.
I’m sitting in yoga pants and a sweatshirt in front of my laptop in my warm house. I have a view of snow-covered roofs and trees filled with robins puffing themselves up against the cold. The only sound is my washing machine, churning through its cycles in a valiant effort to remove ground-in dirt from baseball clothes. My sweet smelly old dog – the poop machine – is curled up on a towel at my feet. If I listen more closely, I can hear birds chirping and my daughter laughing with her friends as they play in the snow. My fridge has food in it, despite the fact that I missed the window to shop for bread, milk, Velveeta and Rotel before the snow started falling. I’m alternating between writing this post, studying everything I can get my hands on about strategic planning and fundraising, and texting with two friends who make me a better person.
There’s no when, then. There is only now. I am content. And for this I am thankful.