I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 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 4:10-13
It has been exactly 100 days since this picture was taken. 100 days since this special group of humans embarked on this post-grad experience known as the Salt Lake Fellows. The old sayings “the days go slow but the weeks go fast” and “time flies when you’re having fun” certainly come to mind as I reflect on this centennial moment of my time in Utah. A post-college experience sought out in hopes of growth and adventure has certainly delivered thus far and will undoubtedly continue to provide more opportunities for us to be forged by the challenges and difficulties of “adulting” in a new city. 100 days has brought its fair share of adventure, beautiful nature, challenging conversations, alpine hikes, trips to Sugar House Park, laughter, road trips, shared meals, joy, sorrow, and more laughter. My goodness does this group love to laugh and have fun together, and I think our Heavenly Father delights in the joy we experience together.
There’s much to be learned along the way when you move across the country, dive headlong into community, start working full time (almost - shoutout weekly Friday Fellows classes), join a new church, and so much more. Some of my favorite things learned are as follows:
Of these wonderful lessons, there’s one that has alluded me. It’s one I desperately want to learn, but I have a feeling that this lesson can’t be fully learned in a 10-month gap year program, let alone 10 years of life.
I want to learn Paul’s secret of being content.
In the final section of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul thanks his brothers and sisters in Christ in Phillipi for their "renewed concern” in the midst of his suffering. We find throughout Paul’s letter that he is incredibly grateful and full of joy, despite the fact he’s likely writing this while under house arrest or in prison. He says, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” How can a guy writing from prison boast of a contentment ignorant to his own circumstances? All it takes is a quick page turn back to chapter 3 to see why Paul is able to proclaim his contentment with such boldness.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. -Philippians 3:7-10
Paul has tasted and seen the goodness of God in the gift of grace and Christ’s perfect righteousness. A former zealous persecutor turned Apostle. Paul had a personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus that would change his life (and millions of others) forever. This reality has seeped into the heart of the apostle Paul and this rootedness in the truth of the gospel gives him the Heavenly vision to endure persecution and rejoice in all circumstances. Paul demonstrates a contentment that our culture of anxiety, stress, and discontentment longs for, a peace that surpasses understanding despite the rise and fall of our circumstances.
My own struggle with discontentment is found in my anxious thoughts of the future and ultimately in my desire for control. Examine your heart and mind closely enough and you will find the shrine to which your life bows, and I daily find myself before the god of control and security. It’s uncomfortable for a planner like me to not know what I want to pursue for a career. It's uncomfortable for a people pleaser like myself to not know where and with whom I will be living beyond June 2020. These struggles of planning and fantasizing often hinder my capacity to be present in today. I claw for any shred of control that I think I have, only to be disillusioned by finding that control is a vaporous illusion (shoutout Ecclesiastes and Daniel McKinney). I subconsciously think that, somehow, if I had an answer for what I want to do with my life or my circumstances perfectly aligned, then I would be content.
But this line of thinking is jarred by the striking words of the Apostle Paul: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” And I so badly desire this, but know in my heart that I daily obsess about the future and the unknown. I’m encouraged however knowing that although he was one of the influential people of the Christian Faith, Paul was human and struggled and stumbled through life like you and I. I think that Paul undoubtedly had moments of forgetfulness and frustration, momentarily losing sight of the goodness of God’s grace. This gives me hope that when I struggle with discontentment, I can fall forward and press on with “grace-driven effort”. God does not call us to blameless and perfect contentment, but rather, a relationship and pursuit of Him. There, in our pursuit of Him, we become a more content person in all situations as we walk with the Lord and become more like Jesus.
As I stand at the precipice of full blown adulthood, I face the swarming seas of uncertainty and the unknown. The reality of adulthood and the difficulties of life feel all too real as I stare out into the abyss AKA my future.
But there’s a greater reality at play here: I am perfectly loved and known by the Creator of the wind and the waves. The One who knows my darkest sins and the deepest atrocities of my heart never stopped pursuing me, wooing me to Him and His grace. The greatest reality at play is the truth of the Gospel: "We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope" (Tim Keller). In the midst of my squalor and sin, His tender love sought me out and called me beloved, and even now in the midst of my lack of trust, His affection for me never wavers, never fades. When I’m rooted in this truth, it gives me confidence to walk towards the storms of life, firmly grasping Christ’s nail scarred hand through it all.
So, as this year continues and my time in Utah marches on, I want to continue to learn the best places to eat in the Valley, the best places to hike in the Wasatch Range, the best trails to ski at Solitude and Brighton, and more. I want to continue to learn how to lean into community and the body of Christ, and on the flip side, learn how to love my LDS or agnostic neighbors like Jesus would. But most of all, I want to learn more and more of God’s love for me and, like Paul, set out to know Christ and count all as loss for the sake of Christ. And in the midst of this love, I want to learn more and more of Paul’s secret of contentment, learning to trust God more and more so I can wholeheartedly proclaim: “my sufficiency comes from dependency on the Almighty one who Loves me” (Ben Stuart).
Luke Van Dyke
SLF Class of 19-20
This week the Fellows went through a justice focused weekend where we heard stories of children escaping polygamous cults, gangs recruiting elementary students, and refugees leaving friends and family to find safety in our city. It is very easy to be ignorant to the injustices going on in the places that we live. Before this weekend, none of these injustices were on my mind. We get consumed by thinking about own lives and don't stop to look up at the faces among us. We love to be comfortable and looking into these injustices are frankly overwhelming. And why worry about other people's issues if they aren't impacting our way of living?
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these
As someone who loves to help and serve I start thinking “alright, what can I do to help fix this issue?” Yet, I realize this injustice is so much larger than me. Injustice never sleeps, it never gets tired. It can't be put out like a candle or squashed like the cockroaches that live in my apartment. It is a ravenous leviathan that has a strong grip on our world. But praise be to the king of kings who is here to deal with it.
“I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
We live in an already but not yet kingdom. Jesus is here working, ushering in the kingdom here on earth but it will not be complete until he comes back. Part of what it looks like to live in an already but not yet reality is to invite others into the kingdom of God, where the poor and needy are taken care of. We can not bring the kingdom here on this earth ourselves though. It is a task that can only be done in and through Jesus. So we do our part by showing a glimpse of what the glory of the kingdom will look like in our own unique ways.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.
It took less than a week of living in Utah to realize I had a problem. We were backpacking through the beautiful Uintas wilderness and on the last day all I could think of was how quickly I could get down the mountain so that I could get home and tackle my to-do list before my first day of work. That was when it first hit me how much I spend my life in a hurry.
I prefer to live each day running from one thing to the next, partly so I can experience it all, but partly so I don’t have to sit in the silence and process or hear things that I might not want to hear. I think we all relate to this – it’s why we love the distractions that swirl around us every day. Distractions keep us from facing reality and what’s going on in our minds and hearts, not to mention what’s going on between us and God. Thankfully, my time in Utah and the fellows has already pushed me to slow down, forced me to rest, and given me space to sit with God, even when I don’t want to do any of it.
On our first backpacking trip, when I was already noticing my anxious future-oriented thoughts, we were given a ton of time to spend alone with God in his creation. At first I was frustrated by the amount of time we were being forced to spend alone, but after a while it became an important moment for me. After I spent some time overthinking my choice to move to Utah, along with time trying to figure out my future, I eventually heard God whispering “Stop looking around for something to distract you. Just be here now. You are going to miss life if you keep asking me if you are in the right place. You are here. That’s all that matters. Make the most of the here and now before it’s gone.” This truth is one I need to hear daily. As much as I may think of myself as always present and all-in for the moment, I often spend too much of my time thinking of the next thing that I forget to be exactly where my feet are.
Honestly, it’s hard to be here when there are a million little things pushing us to be somewhere else, whether that be social media or planning or well-intentioned questioning relatives. We are always hustling towards “the next big thing.” I catch myself every day switching lanes to move past the slow cars, racing up whatever climbing route I’m on, rushing from each activity to the next. Am I too busy? Do I have too much on my plate? Why is it so hard to be present when I love all of my daily activities? In reality, I don’t think I’m doing too much – I’m just often approaching life in the wrong way. I can hardly be present when I’m just hurrying to check something off the list before I move onto the next task or activity.
We are pretty similar to all of Jesus’ relatives who were anxious and confused when they could not find him after leaving Jerusalem, because he wasn’t abiding by their time table and instead chose to sit in his Father’s house. If we really want to live and love like Jesus, then we actually have to live life like Jesus lived life – slowly and intentionally.
I am reminded of the well-known story of Mary and Martha in Luke. While we all hope to be like Mary, who abandons everything to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, I definitely tend to live more like Martha. Instead of resting in Christ’s presence, I am busy striving to perform the best that I can. Despite Martha’s good intentions to give Jesus the best she has to offer, she misses the whole point of his entrance into her home. He simply wanted to spend time with her and show her love, without her ever needing to prove anything. This world screams that we need to constantly be on the go in order to prove ourselves as important, worthy, successful, you name it. But everything that Christ did for us and every characteristic of God screams that He has made us enough and nothing we can do will change that.
This season of life has been busier than I ever imagined. I thrived in the busyness of being a full time college student, but I never imagined how that would compare to the “real world.” While I love my job and all that the fellows program entails, I have learned that rushing from one event to the next is not how I want to live every day here.
We just started going through Ecclesiastes the other day in class and about how control is the biggest illusion in most of our lives. While a first glance at Ecclesiastes leaves us feeling as if everything is meaningless, the real wisdom portrayed is that we all spend too much of our fleeting time on earth trying to control everything and hurry through it. We miss all the beautiful moments of life because we are never fully present when we are always trying to run to the next best thing. We zone out, we’re on our phones, we’re thinking of other conversations we would rather be in or places that we would rather be, and we end up taking each moment for granted. Instead, we should just be where our feet are.
I am constantly learning how to sit, take the slow lane, follow the speed limit, pick the longest line. I still struggle every day. There is a part of me that is constantly counting down the hours that work is over, so I can hurry to other activities, only to eventually hurry through those in order to finally “rest” before bed, which typically just means numbing my brain with another episode of Gilmore Girls rather than spending intentional time with the Lord. Some days I do better than others. As for today, I will try to show up, right where I am. As for you, put down your phone, look at the beautiful creation around you, and praise the One who continues to love our hurried hearts.
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative