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
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative