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Dad’s secret of contentment

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“I have learned the secret of
contentment in every situation.”
Paul, Philippians 4:12

“My Father always knows what is best.”
Peter Wall Gunther

During my dad’s home stretch to heaven, I had memorable dialogues with him about his life journey. He was born in southern Russia during the turbulent 1930’s, grew up under the dictatorial rule of Stalin, experienced the horrors of WWII, saw his father arrested and eventually imprisoned in a Siberian work camp, helped his mother and siblings flee from communist persecution across the vast wasteland of post-war Europe, and settled on a rural Manitoba homestead, enduring the harsh realities of a prairie winter. He owned nothing other than what he was wearing at the time. He lost a sister on the exodus. Such experiences left many of his generation with deep psychological scars, a spirit of bitterness, and despair. Dad, however, spoke of being content as he started a new life in Canada – “We didn’t have much,” he’d say, “but we had each other, and the Lord.” His new life in Canada included back-breaking work, living with the bare necessities, raising six children, moving the family across Canada to start a new business, and being the recipient of both goodwill and malice. In the latter part of his life, he lost health, mobility, clarity of thought, parents, siblings, close friends, a son, and his wife. What is remarkable to me is although each of these came with initial pangs of grief and pain, it was not long before he began expressing his sense of contentment with life. Let me be clear, my dad had struggles, made mistakes, had worries, and battled moments of anxiety. However, he would always return to a sense of what I call a contentment equilibrium, anchored to Christ. “My life is not about me, but about Him whom I serve. Christ is first,” was his mantra.

I never specifically asked my dad why he could always return to a space of contentment, but it was genuinely present. I saw it even later in his life when he experienced serious health issues followed by a cascade of downsizing from a large farm to a retirement condo, to a small room in an assisted living complex (a sterile abode with a few trinkets from eighty plus years of life). After the death of my younger brother and mother, he still returned to a sense of quiet contentment before too long. Yes, there were definitely moments of mourning and loneliness, but these seemed temporary. He was like a human version of memory foam, which, after being crushed by a weight, soon returns back to form. After pondering our last conversations, I began to sense the secret of dad’s contentment.

When talking about his life’s narrative, especially the painful stretches, he would say, “Philip, our Father always knows what is best; he makes no mistakes.” He would routinely suggest that when facing hardship, I should not ask God to remove its weight, but rather ask him for a stronger ‘back’ to carry it. After the deaths of my youngest brother and mother he wondered why he was left behind and then concluded, “My Father has something more for me in this life, I will listen for his voice and encourage others.” Dad lived to encourage, especially those he felt were grieving or bitter. Dad lived by the maxim “Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody.” I surmise that dad’s gift of being an encourager sprung, in part, from his unflappable sense of contentment.

“Contentment is an extension of trust,” penned Richard A. Swenson. There are two realities at play in every person’s life the earthly temporal and the heavenly eternal. We live in the first as created beings with finite understanding and perspective. God is not so limited. A maxim I grew up with is that God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). It simply means that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Contentment is trusting that God is indeed all these things even if everything we are presently experiencing in our temporal reality says otherwise. Thomas Jacomb, a 17th century English minister, stated, “Contentment imports calmness and composedness of mind in every condition- stillness and sedateness of spirit under all occurrences of providence. When a man likes whatsoever God doeth to him or with him…this is contentment.”

I recently journaled, “Contentment is a deep emotional state of being, where a mysterious mixture of acceptance, hope, satisfaction, gratitude, peace and joy abide.” While writing these words, I was mindful. Etched into my dad’s heart were the sentiments of Paul’s counsel to the church in Rome, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28). The apostle’s conviction (and my dad’s) around contentment were embedded in a personal understanding and experience of the love, grace and sovereignty of God (Philippians 4:12). Dad’s secret of contentment was perhaps less complex than many believe. As he saw it, it was living from a place of (using a common expression) letting go and letting God, because the Father does indeed know what is best.

Nine Requisites for Contended living

Wolfgang von Goethe

  • Health enough to make work a pleasure
  • Wealth enough to support your needs
  • Strength [enough] to battle with difficulties and overcome them
  • Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them
  • Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished
  • Charity enough to see some good in your neighbour
  • Love enough to move you to be useful to others
  • Faith enough to make real the things of God
  • Hope enough to remove all anxious fears concerning the future

Excerpt adapted from Letters to my Friends: Words of Faith, Hope and Encouragement by Philip A. Gunther provided by Kindred Productions. Copyright 2022. Used by permission.

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