Our boat gently glides with the breeze across a pristine pond in South Carolina. I am fishing with a friend. The conversation is meaningful and natural- refreshing even. Ancient Oaks with curtains of moss hang from swirling branches and frame up our view. If you could sum up the word “peace” with an early morning scene, this would be it. The only problem is restlessness lingers in my chest like the morning fog that has yet to leave the water around me. Why is this?
This is our second day of fishing. On the first day, I caught two largemouth bass. They are probably the two biggest bass I have ever caught. This got me excited about how many fish I could catch before the end of the trip. I set the mark at ten. As a bonus, I decided I must catch the biggest fish out of everyone.
Am I an experienced bass fisherman? No, not really. I have been fly-fishing for a few years at this point and only got a crash course on bass fishing from a friend right before this trip. That does not change my perspective, though. I caught two nice fish on the first day. That cemented the possibility that I would easily catch ten or more before the end of the trip.
As the morning continues, the sun begins to press harder on our necks and backs. I am growing more frustrated as well. My friend is catching more and more fish, and I have yet to get a bite. We adjust my lure, I get a bite, and then the fish wiggles off of the line before I can reel him in. Now I am just angry. Why do things always end up this way for me? The familiar feeling of not being good enough and even discouragement begins to muddy the waters of an otherwise perfect day.
Then it dawns on me. Why am I so upset? I have already caught two of the largest fish I have ever caught (and have the photos to prove it!). I love being in nature and quality time with good people. Every physical sense I have, my eyes, ears, skin, nose, and tongue, tells me I am sitting in perfection, yet I am discontent. It is the sixth sense of self-induced pressure that is ruining my day. Is it possible that it is only this made-up goal of catching a certain number of fish that is causing me to feel discouraged? Because, other than that, everything is great!
Paul talks about the secret of contentment in Phillippians 4:11-13:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Phillippians 4:11-13 NIV
A couple of things stand out to me about this passage. The first is verse 13. So often used to encourage ourselves in difficult situations and athletes in a moment of competition, I see it differently in light of the previous verses. When Paul says, “I can do all things through [Christ],” he is actually saying, “I can [find contentment in any situation] through him who gives me strength.” Wow! This passage has more to do with contentment than it does with accomplishing the impossible.
The second thing I noticed is that he calls contentment a “secret.” To Paul, it is something to be “learned.” This means that finding contentment may not be obvious at first. It is something that has to be searched for to be found. To begin a search for treasure, there are certain things you have to leave behind because they would only hold you back on your journey. You cannot bring everything with you in your boat. That day on the bass pond, I needed to leave something behind if I wanted to embrace a journey of joy and contentment on the path ahead.
I like that I set goals for myself and am not satisfied with how things are. It is not always a good thing, though. Too often, I put pressure on myself that is not from God or anyone else. It is a striving in me that reveals a lack of patience and trust. It is a fleshly focus on self that needs to be brought to the Cross so that my soul truly flourishes in contentment.
That morning, I decided to remove my numerical goal for catching fish and just enjoy the process of fishing. I don’t mean for this to be a metaphor for pastoring and growing a church, but it feels like that without even trying. Since that day, this principle of leaving behind unnecessary pressure has been something I have been applying more to my life in every area. Contentment is part of the crucified life. It requires saying no to ourselves so that we can say yes to the peace of God that leads to the secret of contentment.