Are You Comfortable in your Skin?
A year ago or so Shaquille O’Neal, the well know and accomplished basketball player first for the Orland Magic and finally for the Boston Celtics, was featured in an advertisement for Dial soap where he told the story of his battle with stuttering as a child. He told of his embarrassment, his struggle to avoid being called upon by his teacher in class and the strategies that he used to avoid that embarrassment. The pitch was to get men to feel comfortable using a product what was formally considered a female product as it ran during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. It ended with the basketball star saying, “I am Shaquille O’Neal and I am comfortable in my skin.” Interestingly enough the title of that commercial was called “The Journey to Contentment.”
Contentment: that is something that all of us long for in most, if not all, of the areas of life. The problem is that we don’t really know how to get it. When one looks at the literature of contentment, one always finds a financial or material element that society places with it. Contentment is found in more money society says. A comedian was once asked what it meant to be content and she said, “An extra 50K a year.” This was a good example because it shows how contentment based on finances is always just beyond our reach. And I suppose that we could use that same argument in a great many areas of life to describe what contentment is: It just seems to always be beyond our reach.
On our second mission trip one of the men who had been instrumental in filling our church with passion for this trip took me aside and asked me, “How can I have a faith like Dentine’s”?
Dentine was the name of the director and founder of the ministry with which we partnered in Mexico. Dentine had owned and operated a very successful chain of sporting goods stores in Dallas when God called him to sell and abandon everything and begin Faith Ministry. He was a man with an infectious personality as well as faith. He had a smile and a hug for everyone he met. We used to joke that he knew the first names of all of the Mexican boarder guards at the boarder crossing from McAllen, Texas into Reynosa, Mexico, as it was a route that he drove late every morning when he left his office and traveled to the main church campus in Mexico for early afternoon worship.
It was the contentment of Dentine’s faith that our team member was really asking about. That faith had seen it all. Dentine had been raised bilingually in the housing project of Galveston, Texas. He had seen the attempt that we have as Americans to find contentment in things that we possess. He had succeeded well with very comfortable surroundings as a successful businessperson. All of those things that we as part of our culture call important to makes us comfortable in our skin were his. But they were not enough. He found himself always wanting more: a bigger house, a faster car, more stores, greater income. But he had also seen the struggles of those who have neither homes nor food, neither health care nor social services of any kind. He had seen the cycle that poverty and the lack of education can bring from a government that had been historically corrupt. He used to say, “Like the prodigal son, God had to make me comfortable in my faith.”
And that is where Paul was: sharing the contentment of faith with his beloved church. Paul had established the church in Philippi on his second missionary trip in 52 AD, but now he found himself in prison, whether it was in Rome or in Caesarea, is disputed by scholars. But the fact that he is in prison is without contradiction. Prison life then was quite grim as you can well imagine. Survival depended on the generosity of family and friends outside the bar of confinement. It is obvious from Paul’s writing that the church in Philippi had been quite generous in supplying Paul with his needs: financial as well as other. So now Paul takes the time to write a thank you note to his beloved church. And his words of thanks are also words of encouragement to this young church.
“Rejoice in the Lord always, for the Lord is near. Do not worry about anything.” They are somewhat strange words to me coming from a person in prison with an unknown future, yet they are Paul’s main words of contentment. You see Paul’s faith is based on the absolute certainty that God will provide and that means that the future is in the strong hands of God. Remember that it was Paul who said, that “neither life nor death. Nor anything in this world can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
You see worrying robs us from the contentment that allows us to enjoy the gifts of our Creator. It has been said that 80% of the things that we worry about never happen. Think of this for a moment. A number of years ago a wise statesman wrote this as he expressed his anxieties about the future generation, “Our youth today love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority and disrespect for older people. Children now days are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble down their food and tyrannize their teachers.” In fact the statement was written more then a few years ago, for it was written by the philosopher Socrates in the end of the fourth century B.C. All that worrying about the future generation, and some would argue that they haven’t changed very much.
The Illinois Medical Journal once ran this article: There are two days in every week about which we should not worry – two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.
One of these days is yesterday, with its mistakes and cares, its aches and pains, its faults and blunders. Yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot erase a single word we say. The other day we should not worry about is tomorrow, with it’s possible adversities, it’s burdens, it’s large promise and performance. Tomorrow also is beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow’s sun will rise either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds – but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.
That leaves only one day – today. Any person can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the burdens of those two awful eternities – yesterday and tomorrow that we are liable to break down.
My mother was a worrier. I am not sure if it was because she lived through the depression or whether some other event informed her personality, But she spent so much time worrying about the “what if’s” of life that she often missed the great things that were going on around her. Her mind and her energy just robbed her of that sense of peace and contentment that Paul is encouraging. As much as I loved her, she was almost always fearful of what the future might hold, that I think in many ways that she missed out on a lot of happiness in life.
The Irish Digest gives this delightful account of what happen one evening to Rev. R. C. Trench. The Most Reverend R. C. Trench was for many years the Episcopalian Archbishop of Dublin. Ireland. For some unknown reason in his past, he had become absolutely petrified of loosing the use of his legs. He worried so much about the possible loss of feeling in his legs that he developed a habit of pinching his leg when he was seated at a table to make sure that he still had feelings there. One evening at a dinner party as he sat at a long formal table, he reached down to pick up his napkin. As an almost unconscious habit took over, he pinched his leg and could not feel anything. He had worried about this happening so much that he began to quietly mutter about it. “It’s happened, “It’s finally happened – total insensibility of my right let.” The woman sitting next to him heard his barely audible murmur and said, “Your Grace, it may comfort you to know that you are pinching my leg.” Here was a worry over something that needed not to be worried about.
And finally the word of Paul on contentment tells that the peace of contentment is not something that comes automatically or instantaneously with the gift of faith. It was something that Paul had to learn. He had to learn it through the joys and difficulties of life. He had to learn that circumstances do not bring contentment, but only faith in God can. He had to learn that there were truly people out there who cared for him: that they would respond to his need as he had responded to them. He had to learn that whatever the future seemed to hold his ultimate future was in the arms of God.
The Old Testament people must have needed to know that lesson as well because it is tucked at the end of the great law or laws that Moses brought down from the mountain called Sinai. Do you remember it? We don’t talk about it very much because we don’t understand it. Thou shalt not covet! Then of course the law goes on to mention specifics. But the law is really asking, “Are you comfortable with you?” It has little to do with wanting things. It isn’t a matter of if I want a house like my neighbors and I am willing to work for it to make it happen. It is about wanting my neighbor’s house so that he or she doesn’t have it. It is about wanting their car so he or she doesn’t have it. And we can really see the evil of it in wanting another person’s spouse so they don’t have him or her. The law is there so that we might be content in what God has given to us.
April 9th, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hours from his death in a Nazi Concentration camp for his role in the underground church and involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler. On that fateful day, this impressive theologian would write his last words. What do you think they were? Would they be words that denounce the Nazi regime? Words calling all believers everywhere to rise up and overcome this Nazi war machine? On the contrary, this is what he wrote: “What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on circumstances; it really depends on what happens inside a person.”
So come now to this table of the Lord, we suffered the joy and more of the sorrows than we will so that we can be content in life and faith.