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 4:12-13
Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.
– Chesterton, Orthodoxy
It’s been nearly a month since our son Micah was born. Crazy how fast the past few weeks have gone.Leading up to his birth I’d had this expectation of some explosive revelation moment when we first met our boy. I’d heard so frequently that having a kid gives you a deeper understanding of God’s love for us, and apparently I’d figured that realization would come all in a rush there and then when we held him for the first time.
Maybe for some people it does. For me it didn’t. And, in all honesty, the last few weeks really haven’t been particularly enjoyable. Oh, there have been beautiful moments, but the vast majority of our time is spent feeling somewhat inadequate and frustrated as we try to to figure out feeding schedules, how to get a little human to fall asleep, how to do everything one-handed while holding a baby, how to operate on 4 or so hours of sleep a night, etc.
The first weeks of parenting aren’t particularly rewarding on a human level. Oh sure, we’ve got a really cute little human to hold whenever we want to, but all the work that comes with it is just hard. There’s a reason why more and more people are opting to have children later or not at all. It costs a lot, financially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
I still haven’t had a huge moment of revelation or anything, yet as I sat next to Micah several nights ago watching him sleep, praying over his life to come and that Kelly and I would survive to see it, I realized how much my view of the world had changed and just how good that is.
Things have shrunk. Our joys and pleasures have become much smaller than they were. That may sound like a negative thing, but I don’t think it is.
The world’s expectation
The world tells us that our pleasures should always be increasing in size, scope, and intensity. This year you went on a vacation to Florida for a week. Next year you should take a two week vacation to Hawaii. The relationship you were just in was good, so you shouldn’t settle for anything less than amazing in the next one. We’re trained to be disappointed if our future experiences don’t outdo our past ones.
A prime example of this is seen in the continual increase of large, explosive scenes in the movies that we watch. Contrast the slow, intricate emotional impact of Twelve Angry Men, a film from 1957 that takes place almost completely in one room, with the city-destroying explosions and two-second cuts of the recent Avengers films. We expect the next spectacle to outdo the previous, or we feel disappointed.
The problem with this is that it burns our senses out, increasingly numbing us to the daily pleasures of life. If you’re used to the explosions and constant action, the pace of films from 20 years ago seems lethargic and boring. We build up a resistance to experiences just like we do to drugs or alcohol.
There’s a reason why billionaires still search for satisfaction despite the fact they can buy anything they want.
What these first weeks of parenthood have taught me is that the small joys bring lasting pleasure. The grand, world shaking ones fade away in an instant.
God of the shrinking joys
In stark contrast to the world, God seems to delight in drawing us into smaller and smaller joys so that the grander things seem ever greater. Witness Elijah’s experience of God speaking through the small, still voice rather than the whirlwind. The quiet encounter made the nation-shaping miracles seem all the more powerful.
Whereas previously a great night for Kelly and I was going out to eat, watching a movie, and staying up late it’s now several minutes of quiet with Micah asleep before we go to bed. A weekend trip has been replaced with the smaller joy of two hours out to eat when grandma comes to watch the baby.
Pleasures have shrunk, but not lessened. The things that were becoming for us commonplace are now precious. We are being taught to take joy in small things and as a result the big things become even bigger and more wonderful. As G.K. Chesterton says, it is limitations that make art art, and therefore beautiful.
Don’t buy this world’s demand that you always need more than you currently have. Instead zoom the frame in, shrink your joys into the concentrated power of simple pleasures and learn to delight in the nuances and small gifts that God showers upon us each day. Attempting to constantly increase the grandeur of your pleasures will drain you and leave you empty. Embracing the God of shrinking joys will lead, ultimately, to eternal pleasure and joy.
As I sat there next to Micah’s tiny sleeping form and soaked in the joy of a peaceful moment, two weeks of a thousand frustrating moments melted away. I am, indeed, learning to be content in all circumstances, and in that there is great reward.