Ideal Conditions

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The clouds sit low and heavy over the mountains, blurring the horizon. So very grey. The lone orange buoy on Harrison Lake lilts and sways with the gentle waves. The waters are calm while the rain pockmarks the surface, an interrupted peace.

From my cabin window, I spot two loons out for breakfast. They look at each other. One dives, and the other disappears. Together they resurface far from where they started. They seem oblivious to the rain.

I am not so immune to the weather. The weight of the morning rests on me. And yet I also feel peace. So little is expected of me when the sky says “stay indoors.” No call to paddle, or hike, or explore or even move outdoors. Just sit. 

This lake view is a metaphor for my new life. There is a dull, uneventful quality to my days. The foggy blurring of the scenery reminds me of the undefined time I’m in. Today, I don’t have clear sight of what’s across the lake. 

Sunny days

A few years ago, in a different season of life, the mountains were crisp, trees evident, sun danced on water and radiated light and life. 

On a sunny Harrison vacation three years ago, Bill and I kayaked in afternoon waters of unprecedented stillness. I paddled slowly down the shoreline, celebrating my propulsion of the boat. With the goal of reaching a sailboat moored in a harbour, I gently cut through the water, one stroke at a time, and drank in the beauty of the day. Ideal conditions!

But as we meandered toward the sailboat, I thought about the phrase “ideal conditions,” and it occurred to me that the very conditions we deemed perfect had actually paralyzed the sailor. His boat remained anchored in the cove with no winds to power it. I wondered if he sat on shore with a case of the doldrums.

Grey skies

So what are ideal conditions? Often people look at my life and lament that health issues keep me from my previous work as career coach and instructor. They express remorse over the losses I’ve experienced and the pain that forces me into this new place of quiet and simplicity. 

I find myself asking, did my previous way of life embody ideal conditions? The obvious answer is no. But is it possible I’m living the ideal now?

Perhaps it’s the question that needs to change. Humanly speaking, I doubt two people could agree on the idyllic life. What if the goal isn’t the ideal but contentment in any situation? Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).

If I were writing this verse in my context, it would read: “I know what it is to live with intense daily physical pain, so much that I can no longer work and my current life looks like a shadow of what it once included. And I also know what it’s like to have a loving family, supportive friends, rewarding work and meaningful ways to build into the lives of others.” Most of us can relate to ups and downs, times of joy and times of struggle.

Content in any weather

But Paul doesn’t simply acknowledge that life happens. He announces that he’s discovered the secret to being satisfied in whatever circumstances he encounters! So what’s the secret? Paul shares it in verse 13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The strength Paul refers to isn’t a one-time gift. It’s Christ’s act of immediate and ongoing empowerment. God is fortifying me to find contentment, whatever my situation.

As I sit in this rainy day, the mountains that define the lake’s perimeter are vague, distant outlines. But I know they’re here because I’ve seen them and I remember them, and I know that when the clouds descended, nothing really changed.

The same is true spiritually. I choose to recall God’s faithfulness and experiences of his closeness when life feels like a bank of fog. The weather will change. God will not.

I’ve been particularly encouraged by Marva Dawn’s book Being Well When We’re Ill. Like Dawn, rather than demanding God tell me why I’m sick, I’ve learned to ask, “What is God doing in the midst of this?” and “Where do I catch glimpses of the Trinity’s grace?”

As I seek God, not just answers, I see him at work in ways I would otherwise miss. Gratitude wells up, in spite of my pain, because I know bigger purposes are at work – even when I can’t see them.

Kayaking toward the sailboat that pristine day was easy because I could see where I was going. But to do that same trip today, in the fog, would mean trusting my compass and, in faith, paddling on. 

Thirty years ago, I set my compass to Christ, and he continues to guide me in the times of unseen. He is trustworthy and will continue leading me through uncertain waters to my ultimate destination.

Shelaine-Strom-—Shelaine Strom is a life coach and certified career practitioner who has worked in the career transition industry for over 20 years. A member of Ross Road Community Church, Shelaine is married to Bill and lives in Abbotsford, B.C., where she enjoys a mix of both empty nest and three sons coming and going from university.

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