We spent a beautiful weekend at our family's ranch for Thanksgiving. The weather was spectacular. After driving up Wednesday afternoon, in 80 degree sunshine, we awoke the next morning just as a cold front began to sweep in, bringing temperatures down into the 20's! For me, who gets a little tired of the Texas heat, I was thrilled by the brisk chill in the air. We bundled up and drove around in the mule (an offroad version of a golf cart) to explore the countryside. For the entire weekend, the sunsets were spectacular. The food was delicious (my favorite, as always, is my mom's cornbread dressing!). Even the deer seemed extra playful, romping about to keep warm while grazing at the corn feeder, in perfect view from the back porch.
The only thing I would have changed was the amount of sleep we got. As usual, when we travel, our son (who is now 10 and a half months old), wakes up numerous times throughout the night. Unlike at home, where we can let him cry for awhile until he falls back asleep on his own, at the ranch house, where all five bedrooms are occupied with family members, we have to be sensitive to waking others up. So when Marshall cries, we get up and give him a bottle or try soothing him back to sleep. Unfortunately, he's discovered how this works and uses it to his advantage. By the third night, he had us up four or five times a night and wouldn't let us put him back down in the pack n play without a fight. It was exhausting. By that time, I admit, I was beyond the point of frustration and just plain angry. Angry at the fact that we weren't getting sleep. Angry at how I was going to feel the next day. Angry at having to deal with this every time we travel. Angry because I thought that by this age, our son would be past the wake up in the middle of the night routine. As always, my tendency in those moments is to let out a string of expletives, just to make me feel better. I know, not the most attractive character quality. My husband hates it (he doesn't resort to cursing, like I do!). But it's hard for me in those moments, when I look at the clock and realize it's only 3am, and I've already been up four times and I'm just counting the hours until morning when everyone is up and I can begin to look forward to putting him down for his first nap. At that point, of course, time moves at a snail's pace.
Some moms would probably suggest putting travel on hold or staying in a hotel until Marshall is sleeping better. But for me, family time, being all together in one house, is too special to pass up. So many memories are created every time we are together. So yes, we will be exhausted and a bit cranky. But to us, it's worth it. What I decided to figure out, instead, was how to change my expectations in order to cope in the midst of those exhausting nights (usually by 5am with a few cups of coffee, I could perk up).
When we got home from the ranch, I spent some time in God's word, looking for guidance. God led me to Philippians 4:11-13, which says: "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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
To grasp the power of this verse, I think it's helpful to look at the life of the author. Paul, before encountering Jesus, was a highly influential and prestigious Jewish teacher and leader in the community. He ran in a circle of the most elite and educated men of his day. He had power and prestige. When he spoke, people listened. But on the road to Damascus, when he was blinded by a light and encountered Jesus, his life was radically changed. As he began to preach a message of repentance, forgiveness and salvation through Jesus alone, men who once admired him wanted him killed. Instead of receiving fame and glory, he was mocked and scorned. Some thought he had gone insane. In addition to the emotional loss of his reputation, he endured physical suffering. He was beaten, flogged, whipped, jailed, shipwrecked, bitten by a poisonous snake, and endured MANY a sleepless night.
So how can he, of all people, say that he has learned to be content in WHATEVER circumstances?
I believe the answer is in verse 13, which says, "I can do all this through HIM who gives me strength."
Before encountering Jesus, Paul did everything in his own strength. His education, position and reputation were all earned by his own efforts. He followed the Law as closely as anyone could follow it. If anyone had a right to do so, he could pat himself on the back and say, "I earned all of this! Look at me!"
But when he became a follower of Jesus, his world was turned upside down. It was no longer about who he was or what he could show for himself. The focus was no longer on what he did, but what Jesus did for us. Paul preached a message that admitted utter weakness in himself and in all of humanity: that Christ came to die a death and pay a price that we could never pay, that Christ offers reconciliation between God and man, something that we can never earn, that Christ alone should receive glory, honor, and praise because He alone is God.
Knowing Paul's story helps me to put my own circumstances into perspective. It is not by pulling up my bootstraps and willing myself to be happy, positive and content, that I will be able to get through tough times. That's what any self-help book will tell you. YOU can do it. Just do x, y, and z. That's not what Paul or Jesus is saying. Quite the opposite. It is only from a position of complete weakness and humility can we find true strength to endure hardship. By being willing to say, "I can't do this, Lord. I am weak and have nothing without You," is when true strength comes. It is letting go of trying to control outcomes and allowing Jesus to be fully sovereign over every detail of our lives. I know, easier said than done. But when we come to God in weakness, that's when we find strength. That's when we find true contentment.
So my prayer today is that we would become weak, poor and needy before God, that we would be willing to say, "I can't do this, Lord, but You can. I release all control, all anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration to You and entrust You to take care of this for me," that we would truly believe that God's "power is made perfect in weakness." I pray that we would learn, just as Paul learned, that the secret of being content is not by finding strength in ourselves, but in Jesus. When I am able to do that, I believe I will truly find contentment, even when my little one keeps me up all hours of the night!