"...for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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."
Do your circumstances define your happiness? Life has definitely not turned out the way I thought it was going to. I'm so far from my "original game plan," that it would be so easy to throw up my hands and admit defeat in frustration. I'm throwing up my hands, alright, but not in the way you might think. Instead of burying my head in the sand, I'm looking up and those hands are up in praise to God for what he has so graciously taught me.
Sometimes it is so tempting to perseverate on the things I've lost. I am convinced it is the quickest way to lose any and all joy - just focus your thoughts on the things you've lost. Now, follow this by focusing entirely on your circumstances. These two "companions" go hand in hand for being joy-killers. And, not surprisingly, the world often judges your level of success by them.
I never realized before just how much I based my happiness on my circumstances. If my job was going well, I enjoyed going to work. If my kids were behaving themselves, then it was a good day for motherhood. If the job wasn't going so well, it was most likely time to start looking for a new job. If the kids weren't behaving themselves then it was time to... (no, I wasn't going to write THAT!). I think you get the idea. My circumstances dictated my feelings and my thinking more than I had realized. My happiness was tied to what was happening around and to me. But God showed me it isn't about me and my happiness. God loves me, of this I'm sure, but that doesn't necessarily equal God wants me to be happy. It's not the purpose of life.
When we base our happiness on the ever-changing circumstances around us, we'll never be "happy enough" or "have enough." Our definition of happiness will always be changing with our circumstances. What made me happy yesterday may not make me happy tomorrow. When your "happiness-meter" is constantly changing, how do you find true happiness? And that's when God came to rescue me from this self-focused dependency.
The more "things" I lost, the more of God I gained (I'm learning to love how God works - so mysterious He is!). My "traditional family" was the first thing to go. I turned to God and begged Him to restore it. He said no and to trust Him. My health was next (which was unnerving as I was pregnant). God said to trust Him. Shelter and finances came next. At this point I was pretty much on the floor begging God for mercy. In complete despair I yelled out to Him letting Him know I had nothing left. He said, "I know you think that." And when He confirmed that I had lost all worldly comforts, I finally realized why God had changed my direction.
He showed me I had gained exactly what the deepest part of my heart longed for - Him. You see it wasn't until I lost circumstantial happiness that I learned to turn to Him for everything. I had nothing to turn to for comfort except to Him. The pain of what I had been through was so great. When I finally surrendered my "nothingness" to Him, He gave me everything I needed (there's that mysteriousness again!). And He (so graciously) taught me something remarkably mysterious. Great pain can only be healed by a greater and more powerful God. There is nothing the world can do to heal a broken heart that has been inflicted with so much pain, only God can restore and redeem a broken heart.
The more I turn to Him, the more I learn about who He really is and the more my love for Him grows. And the joy I feel is like no other, because any emptiness that I felt is no longer there. He is my happiness. He is constant. Having a relationship with Him is true joy, because (as my three-year-old so eloquently says) Jesus lives in my heart. There is no worldly comparison for what Jesus has given me (another amazing gift!)!
In Pain I Gain
This pain I feel draws me near,
To the One my heart loves so dear.
For out of the pain I desire the greatest good there is.
I long for Him wanting desperately to know that I am His.
In loss and pain,
Is when I learn the highest purpose and the truest gift I gain.
You, Dear Jesus, I have learned are the best.
For You, I would give up all the rest.
You came to me in my deepest need,
And from the oppression I have been freed.