Some lessons are hard to learn. I often need consistent reminders of things I have already "learned."
I have loved my experiences at the guesthouse in which we have stayed on my first two trips to Uganda. Hot water, comfortable beds, ceiling fans, and nightly dinners in the lush courtyard have defined the Entebbe experience for me. I could do without the daily 6 a.m. avian wakeup call, but beyond that, the guesthouse is a welcome entry into the African experience - the perfect balance between the comforts back home and the lack awaiting us in Sudan.
For some reason we were unable to stay at the guesthouse this trip.
As I walked into my room that first night my initial thought was, "I don't like this place as much as the guesthouse." Our day in Uganda was supposed to be somewhat more comfortable in order to relax before the journey ahead, but this was missing some of the fundamental comforts that I had grown accustomed to in previous trips. It was 80 something degrees in the bedroom with no fan. The staff appeared at first to be not nearly as friendly and helpful as the guesthouse staff. There is no gardened common area to sit around all day and rest. Somewhere in the distance I heard violins softly lamenting the hardship I was suffering.
Immediately I began to inwardly grumble. A silent yet intense emotional and spiritual response began to rise from within. I wanted to complain. I wanted to write an e-mail to our missions staff and ask why we couldn't have stayed at the guesthouse and "warn" future teams. I wanted to complain, I wanted to murmur and moan and grumble and groan.
I soon saw through the complaints and offered a quick prayer of confession and went to sleep no longer quite so upsetbut later, as I have reflected more upon the experience, I realize that the goal is not to merely be not discontented (I apologize for the triple negative). In some ways, contentment is more than simply the absence of discontentment.
You cannot simply remove the complaints from a heart; you must fill the heart with something else. An empty vacuous heart is not a righteous heart. When you have a stagnant well, you do not merely remove the filthy water; you must then fill it with clean and fresh water. The heart is not meant to be empty. It is good to not complain, but that is only half the battle. Grumbling must be replaced with gratitude.
The Lord knows my propensity to discontentment. He knows my grumbling and complaining heart, one which is so often plagued by pride and entitlement. Had I stayed at the guesthouse, I probably would not have grumbled; I would not have complained; I would not have murmured in my heart. But I probably would not have been grateful. Therefore, my affections would still have been affected by grumbling, complaining and murmuring, even if it did not rise to the surface. In the absence of gratitude there is entitlement. One or the other will rule and reside in your heart.
The Lord wants me to be grateful, not simply to avoid grumbling. He loved me too much to let me stay at the guesthouse.