This week, in our ongoing series of 13 Weeks to Family Financial Freedom After a Crisis, I was reminded of a lesson learned by watching my daughter and her young family as they made the hard transition into military life.
Soon after my son-in-law enlisted, he got stationed in Hawaii. Needless to say, they were elated. Undaunted at the prospect of leaving friends and family an ocean behind, they all flew off to paradise to live happily ever after.
It took several months, but something most unexpected happened. Gradually, they went from living in paradise to being stuck on an island.
What, you might ask, could you lack in a tropical paradise like Hawaii? After all, they’re living in a place most people can only dream of visiting. They had a good income and a nice home. Weekends were filled with family outings to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Every day, almost without fail, a rainbow appeared in the sky. What changed? What’s missing that was there before?
Simple contentment. For a brief time, they lost sight of that secret ingredient.
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13
Discontentment will take a wonderful life and turn it sour. That’s not to say that military life is a piece of cake. Neither is raising young children separated from extended family–it’s hard. So are job losses, sickness and all the other trials that cause economic distress. But contentment is even more vital in those times.
In fact, faith and contentment are the key ingredients to happiness. Sound too simplistic? Well, if being content in all circumstances were easy, everyone would be doing it.
However, it can be done.
When you think about it, we as Americans inherited a faulty assumption about happiness from our founding fathers. It goes something like this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The problem is, too often we focus on the life, liberty and happiness part, and leave out the most important element — the “pursuit.” Here we read that our Creator endowed us with the unalienable right to pursue happiness — not a right to be happy. That’s an important distinction both in theology and in practical living.
If we assume we have a right to happiness, it suggests that it’s wrong for us to have adversity. We equate adversity with unhappiness. That’s simply not true; it may be unpleasant or even sorrowful, but it doesn’t have to lead to unhappiness.
This week marks a full year since my husband’s health crisis that sent us into a financial tailspin.
As I look back, I can see the struggle for Mike’s recovery has brought a new dimension of health and vitality to the entire family. We’ve found answers to questions we didn’t know we needed to ask. Losing what was once a secure avenue of a steady income forced us to dig deeper and work harder at making those “someday” projects into reality today.
When I began to pursue contentment, I found happiness and new purpose in places I never thought to look before.
Don’t confuse contentment with complacency. I’m not suggesting that we should be content to live in poverty, illness, or your mom’s basement. That’s complacency.
I ran across this quote earlier this week:
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl
How can you find happiness in the midst of economic or any other kind of distress?
Pursue contentment, even in the midst of the hardest trial. Only then can you see clearly to find the new path those trials are forging for you. Meaning and purpose are often found in the very circumstances once thought unbearable.
Have you ever had “a blessing in disguise”? Been forced down a road, by circumstances, that you never wanted to go but found it led to happiness after all?
Photo credits Shutterstock, xavier gallego morell