“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” C.S. Lewis.
I had this image tucked away in corners of my heart and mind I wasn’t aware of. Until my 27th birthday rolled around.
All day, my friends here in Germany took time out of their limited schedules to celebrate me. One friend even had a present for me to open literally every hour of the day. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so celebrated before, and yet the entire day I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.
“What is wrong with me? Everyone is being so kind to me. Why am I feeling sad and disappointed?” And then it hit me. I had this image of 27, and that image screamed everything “adult” to me: house owner, an established career with benefits, beliefs figured out, a pet dog, outings with friends every weekend, an active involvement in my church community, the beginnings of stepping towards the dating world and marriage. I’ve nurtured this image for as long as I can remember—so much so that I wasn’t even aware of it— and suddenly I found myself 27, not having most of these things, crying on my bedroom floor, and wishing that somehow I was a different 27 year old. To me, 27 was an age where people “arrived” in life; there was an ease to it, a confidence and sense of stability, and I felt very, very far from this kind of “arriving.” My life at 27 seemed to pale in comparison to the image I carved for it, and the inconsistency of my reality with this expectation made my heart achy and conflicted.
And on that bedroom floor, trying to reconcile the appreciation and love I felt from my friends with this sense of inadequacy I was feeling, I realized something—good is good. There really isn’t any degrees of good, any in-betweens or second places. This is where good separates itself from being a preference. Something good might not be preferable, but it’s not more good than X, or less good than Z; if something is good, it’s just good. End of story. Comparison can’t be used to validate the worth of a good thing, then. It’s actually quite useless for that. Comparison can’t even undermine the value of good; it doesn’t have the power for that. But what it can do is actually something much more subtle and dangerous than that: it can so twist and distort our perception to where we can’t even see or receive the good trying to be given to us.
Just as the goodness of God doesn’t need my validation, His gifts don’t either. This age of 27 not looking like what I thought it would doesn’t take away from the immense value of what God has chosen to give and shape within me, a value that’s so much bigger and more relevant to my life than the images I come up with for it.
His gifts often look different from what we imagined they would; sometimes they don’t really quite look like gifts at all. But with a God who’s bigger than our circumstances and preferences—with a God who makes beauty not just out of our own ashes, but out of other people’s ashes that bring pain and difficulty in our lives—we get the privilege of accepting the good He gives and shapes in that season, regardless of what form that good appears in; we get the privilege of accepting Him.
And that, I think, is the secret of contentment.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, 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.” —Philippians 4:11-13