I navigated my way out of the clogged grocery store parking lot and was almost free when I noticed his car.
Parked in the far reaches of the lot, it was solitary yet strategic, at rest in the shade of a small tree.
The car had to be nearly as old as I am. It showed. A station wagon sprinkled with scratches and scars, it had stories.
And then I saw him – a man about my dad’s age, slightly disheveled, a little overweight, seated comfortably behind the steering wheel with a neatly folded newspaper in hand, window down. He was reading.
But none of that was worth noticing until I saw his face. His lips were parted into the faintest smile, his eyes were happy. He looked so comfortable and relaxed. I was captivated. An old guy. In a crappy car. In the corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot. And he appeared to be so…content.
I measured his posture against my own. My hands gripped the steering wheel a little too tightly, lips pressed together as my mind skipped three steps ahead.
What time is it? Am I running late? These kids are so noisy? Did I tell my girl to pack her ballet things? Did I tell the other to grab her basketball gear? And did I check if either of them listened to me? What am I making for dinner tonight? WHY are these kids so noisy?
Everything about me was a little too tight, tense, terse, racing. For a moment I wanted to trade places with that guy in the clunky car. And I wondered how I got here – envying an old man in the corner of the Wal-Mart parking lot.
But it’s true.
I have no idea what that man’s story was. He could have been procrastinating the real work he should have been doing. He may have escaped the pile of medical bills and withering bank statement waiting for him at home. Maybe he was waiting for his wife to finish the grocery shopping or maybe this was his daily habit, his way of pressing pause. I don’t know. But God used him to paint a picture of contentment in my mind that morning, to whisper quietly in unsuspecting places, capture my all-too-quick and darting gaze and remind me, there are better ways to do this, Katie.
Maybe you need that reminder as well?
I live in a season of busy. As much as I fight the crazy and try to reign in the hustle that frays the edges of our family, as much as I love being home and prefer a slow and quieter family pace, I would be lying if I said this season of life isn’t still busy much of the time. It just is.
I have four kids. We do stuff. They are always hungry. We serve. We like to be with friends and family. It’s busy.
But we choose this quite intentionally. We weigh our crazy carefully and seek the best yes. However, I am learning, that alone may not be enough. I’m still missing something here.
In Philippians Paul writes:
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. (4:12 NLT)
Whatever Paul is talking about here, this “secret of living in every situation” – truly thriving while parked in a quiet corner at Wal-mart or in my full and noisy car taxiing little people to the next stop – hit me with it, Paul. I want this.
But before we crack that open, let me set the stage here. Paul is not writing these words from a parking lot or as a mother weighed down with all of the obligations of a busy household. No, Paul is penning encouragement, dishing out this hope of what he has struggled through and by God’s grace come out on the other side of (because that is what learning mostly looks like, right?), while behind bars. He is incarcerated.
A little perspective is humbling, no?
Thankfully, Paul’s words shine some light as to how he arrived at this “secret of living in every situation”. Here are 4 insights he shares with us.
In verse 12 Paul tells us “not that I have attained, or am already perfected;”
This is hope for the rest of us, right? We’re right there with you, Paul.
“but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” (NKJV)
I love that picture. I’m a work in progress here, but I keep going. Like Peter on the water, when my eyes are on Him I can keep walking because His eyes are on me. Yes.
And then in verse 14 he tells us what he is pressing on for, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (NLT)
Paul presses on with eternity in mind. His actions and reactions in the present are not a result of his circumstances, but his eternal perspective.
Pray and give thanks
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:6-7)
My favorite phrase here is “in every situation”. This is what intimacy looks like. Sometimes we reserve prayer for the big and heavy things of life, but this verse speaks of more than that. In a busy Wal-Mart parking lot with noisy kids, my petition, my prayer, my thanksgiving, invites His peace.
There is joy here!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4)
The book of Acts provides us with the account of Paul’s life at this time. Incarcerated for years, held in hopes of a bribe, he had every reason for discontentment and yet he holds a hope that is greater than his present circumstances. It is in that Hope that he finds joy. This is a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:5).
The fact that this verse repeats itself is the most gentle wake-up to the tired and rushing amongst us all. Wake up! We have something to rejoice about.
Be careful where you park your mind.
In chapter 4 verse 8 Paul give us the words I feed my kids (and myself) almost daily.
“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
The power of positive thinking has gotten a bad rap and it’s important to note that while Paul is thinking about all of these noble and right and pure things – he’s still in prison. His mindset didn’t change his circumstances, it changed his heart.
Even while employing our best yes, there are seasons of life that are busy and demanding. There are seasons that are lonely and quieter than we wish. There are valleys and mountains, desserts and floods. The fruit grows slow and the daily maintenance can feel grinding. I’m learning this, seeing this, living this.
Paul understood all that, but he fixed his heart, his joy, his contentment on something entirely different than changing seasons and fickle circumstances. He set his heart, found his peace, in the One who is unchanging.
In a parking lot, a loud and crowded car or in prison, He is forever the same. That is where I want to park my heart and mind as well. Choose contentment today. I’m choosing it right along with you.
This post originally appeared IChooseBrave.com and was republished with permission.
Katie Westenberg is a wife and mother to four, who is passionate about fighting fear and living brave. Married for 15 years, she lives in Washington state, enjoying life outside the city limits and any adventures that involve friends and family. She writes at IChooseBrave.com encouraging women to fear God and live brave.