Catching Contentment - with Liz Carter
Hello my friends!
This week, I am delighted to be hosting the lovely Liz Carter on my blog. Liz has written a beautiful book called Catching Contentment, that I know you’re going to love. I also have three copies to give away for free! On Friday 23rd November, I’ll be selecting three people at random to win one of these books, kindly donated by IVP. Details on how to enter can be found at the bottom of the page.
Now, over to Liz…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to write a book about contentment?
The word ‘contentment’ used to feel like a faraway concept I couldn’t quite grasp. I’d somehow come to believe that contentment could only be for those who had lives without blemish, health without pain, people who skipped through life with a smile on their face because things never seemed to go wrong for them. But I thought it would never apply to me, a person living with chronic diseases. I’d had lung problems since birth, diagnosed with a rare condition later on. It is a progressive illness, which means that over the years I have got more and more sick. Once upon a time I imagined life with a career and ambition, but all of that seemed to turn to ashes in the reality of my pain.
Yet I read in Philippians that the apostle Paul said that he’d learned to be content in all situations. I discovered that his life was far from rosy, that he was imprisoned, under death threats, and had lived in hardship for many years. So I began to dig into the Bible and the lives of other Christians who had suffered and yet claimed to know contentment. I found a life-changing truth about the contentment God longs to flood us with. I discovered that contentment is an active decision to reach out my hands, and that instead of depending on circumstances, it is birthed in taking my eyes off me and pinning my gaze on the one who loves me most of all; a God who blazes through my darkness and agony and soothes the most desolate places inside.
In the book you talk about the role of lament in finding contentment - how important do you think it is to give voice to what we're really feeling?
I think that in some churches and some communities we have forgotten how to lament. It’s almost like we’ve been encouraged to wear masks of feeling ‘fine’, or even feeling that we must be inordinately happy at all times in order to show that we are Christians. Displaying any kind of rawness of feeling can be discouraged or even frowned on. Thankfully, though, I think these attitudes are more and more left in the past along with the idea that we should always have that ‘stiff upper lip’. It’s so good that we are now often more able to share our deeper feelings, our doubt and disappointment. The interesting thing is that the idea of sharing our deepest selves is not at all new. The Bible is full of lament, giving us permission to cry our pain, to shout out to God, to express our screaming agony in the most vivid and passionate language. I find in the Psalms a great depth of resonance as the writers share their own grief and torment without holding back. ‘Where are you, God?’ they cry, and it’s such a relief to find scripture echoing our own stark reality.
What is it that helps you to find contentment on the hard days?
Sometimes contentment still feels far away, a mirage on the far horizon. And yet when I remember that contentment isn’t about my own feelings or situation, but about looking to Christ amidst all of that, it helps me to move closer to it and walk into what Paul describes as ‘peace beyond understanding.’ I find that an attitude of thanksgiving can greatly help, that thanking God for all he has done in the past and all he is doing now can draw me out of bitterness. Remembering all God has done and laying out my pain before God also take me to a different and more positive place. But it’s always a choice I need to make. It can be so easy to slip into focusing only on me and my sick body, yet when I choose to worship God instead I find myself lifted and soothed. Time in God’s presence is a balm to my whole body, mind and spirit, even when my body aches with every second. In worship, God transforms my perspective and reminds me that he is here in my brokenness with me.
In your book, you mention a few bad experiences with different people. How can we be helpful to our friends who are facing difficult issues, especially when those issues are long term?
I think that when people are struggling with long term issues, they appreciate more than anything else people who will simply ‘be’ with them on the journey. I’ve been in so many situations where people try and find solutions for me - both practically and spiritually - and I’m somehow left feeling lesser, like I haven’t been listened to. Yet when friends sit with me, holding my hand, it’s such great consolation to me. It reminds me of God, who is always sat with me, his hand holding mine - and instead of shouting solutions, whispering words of love.
Practical things can help, too. Sometimes people with chronic illnesses - both physical and mental - get forgotten about because they are always sick, and it’s so much easier to look after those who are acutely ill. This can leave chronically ill people feeling like they don’t matter, or even as if they are an annoyance, a burden. My church family are so wonderful because they do things for me which help our family in a practical way, from making meals for the freezer through to taking me to hospital appointments.
Finally, if someone is struggling to find contentment, what is one thing they could do that you've found to be really helpful?
I think that contentment will always be a struggle to find if we try to grasp it within our own strength and our notions of it as something tied to an easier or pain-free life. If we can un-tether it from these assumptions and approach it as something God longs for us to catch hold of then we will come closer to it. The one thing I’d suggest is to focus on Jesus; the person he is, the lengths he went to because of his love for us, and his promise that he came to bring life in its fullness - which may not always look like an unbroken life, but will look like a life of the most glorious hope we could possibly experience.
If you’d like to win a copy of Catching Contentment, just sign up to my email list below. It’s as easy as that! I’ll be announcing the winners next Saturday.