I used to HATE this verse—and when I say hate, I mean HATE. I didn’t just dislike it, I LOATHED it. Why? Because every time I read it, I felt like an utter failure. You see, when I was put in quarantine, I wasn’t content. I wasn’t even kinda-sorta, partway, maybe-a-little-bit content. I was miserable, angry, upset, and confused. If I had to use one word to describe myself it would have been DISCONTENT—hence my dislike of 1 Timothy 6:6.
I wanted to be a “good Christian,” but it was just so HARD!!! I’d struggle to be sweet and joyful, but I’d end up snarling. I’d try to be full of faith, but I’d end up doubting. And every time I would wrestle a little bit of contentment out of life, my illness would throw me a curveball, and I’d feel miserable again. Finally, I decided that I just wasn’t a very nice person, and I stopped struggling to change. I was nasty, and that was all there was to it. End of story. Amen.
I felt that I had my reasons for being surly; after all, it’s hard to be “Godly” and “content” when your hair is falling out and your teeth are loose. It’s hard to be hopeful when the prognosis isn’t bright, and you’re possibly facing a lifetime of illness. And it’s hard to be sweet when you’re in constant pain. As far as I was concerned, 1 Timothy 6:6 was just a bunch of hooey. It might apply to sweet, little saints with nice, cushy lives, but it certainly didn’t apply to me. In my opinion, Paul’s words to Timothy were a bunch of malarkey.
During this time, I felt like a prairie dog with its feet trapped in a hole. I could see the world, but I couldn’t go out and join it. I was basically spinning in a fruitless circle looking at what I could not have, fearing danger I could not flee, and ALWAYS hating the fact that I was stuck. I was angry all of the time.
My lowest point came when my right arm went numb and I lost feeling in my right hand. I couldn’t lift a fork to feed myself. I tried to be “Godly” and “content” about it—I tried to tell myself that learning how to do everything left handed would be an adventure. Eventually, I got fairly good at being a “lefty.” I didn’t spill too much food and brushing my teeth became easy. Then the inevitable happened. The numbness spread to my left arm. I tried to ignore it. I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. But one day, when I sat down to eat, my left hand went dead. Neither one of my hands would work. I remember looking at my plate of food and trying not to cry. Feeling hungry, but not able to do anything about it, I went to my bedroom, covered my head with the blankets, and then I did a very “Godly” thing. I yelled at God. Actually, I screamed at Him. The gist of my rantings was, “Is this something to be ‘content’ about???”
My anger lasted for a long time. And the more I let it consume me, the worse I felt about myself and my life. I can remember holding my breath and hoping I could just stop breathing. Finally, I came to a point of desperation. I knew that I couldn’t exist in such turmoil. For some reason, I felt drawn to read 1 Timothy 6:6 again, and this time one single word stood out: “WITH.”
Every time I’d read 1 Timothy 6:6, I’d skipped right over the word “with.” It just didn’t seem important. But for some reason, this time it seemed to jump right off the page. Suddenly, I realized that part of my problem was that on some days, I’d try to be “Godly” and on other days I’d try to be “content.” But what I needed to do was try to be both at the same time. You see, if you’re keeping your temper in check and not being snotty, but inside you aren’t content with your situation—nothing works. On the other hand, if you aren’t stewing about your situation, but you’re allowing yourself to act like an angry jerk—you’re still in a pickle. You need both “Godliness” and “contentment” to be teamed together like two horses pulling a wagon.
Maybe that seems like splitting hairs—and maybe it is—but for me it was a revelation. I couldn’t control the fact that I was ill and in quarantine. But I could control how I reacted to it. I looked up the word “contentment” in the dictionary and found that it means “ease of mind.” When I allowed myself to stew, and fret, and worry, and spin around in the prairie dog hole—I wasn’t being content. And when I allowed myself to rant, and rave, and yell at God, and pitch a fit, and feel angry—I wasn’t being Godly.
I didn’t like my miserable existence, so I was willing to try anything to change it. I’m the type of person who likes plans of action—they make me feel more in control. So after praying for God’s help, I memorized Philippians 4:8 as a roadmap for my thinking.
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Philippians 4:8
If the thought that I was thinking wasn’t true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy, I’d FORCE myself to stop thinking it.
This, of course, was BRUTALLY hard.
Maybe some people wouldn’t have a problem thinking nice thoughts, but my brain seemed hot wired for anger, distress, and misery. Trying to think like Little Miss Sunshine wasn’t exactly an easy task. I knew I’d never be able to give up angry thoughts cold turkey, so I devised a game. Whenever I would think a sad, depressing, angry, ugly thought, I would force myself to mentally sing a hymn.
Looking back on it, I have to laugh. My mental thoughts went something like this: “I’m never getting better…The joy of the Lord is my strength…I hate my life…Wonderful, wonderful, Jesus is to me…my life is over…Then sings my soul, my…
For about a year, my mind was at war with itself. But eventually, the hymns won out over the angry grumbling. And once my mind was at peace, suddenly it was a lot easier to stop acting like an angry skunk and to start feeling content.
Life isn’t easy. Some things just aren’t fair. But trust me when I say that feeling angry, and miserable, and hopeless, and depressed makes everything much harder than it needs to be. I still have problems, and occasionally, I still have skunky days, but I’ve learned a key—“Godliness” needs to be paired WITH “contentment.” And the only way to have both is to CONTROL YOUR THOUGHTS. End of story. Amen.