Expanding and Contracting: Adjusting to Change

Expanding and contracting often occur subtlely around us. Gradual changes may go unnoticed, hidden in the busyness of daily lives. However, extreme shifts rudely jar us awake, demanding immediate attention.

Last night our house popped noisily as temperatures plummeted almost as quickly as a downed aircraft. Sleep refused to come during the racket. I felt powerless, and a little irritated, as I pulled the warm sheets over my head. As I hunkered in my bed, the creaking and cracking persisted through much of the night. The process continued later in the day as the sun shone its warming rays upon the roof and walls, striving for supremacy.

Here, on the northern prairies, such temperature fluctuations occur often. Neither my house nor I respond well to sudden shifts of anything — temperature or otherwise! I prefer gentle smooth transitions, especially ones I foresee and can control.

Some of life’s expanding brings joyous benefits — a successful business or growing family, a larger home or increased wages, even an extra day off work or hour in bed.

Our living space contracted recently when we moved from a house to a condo. My husband and I welcomed the downsizing of our home and the responsibilities that went with it.

Other times, both expanding and contracting brings grief and loss. It may require a move away from family and friends or the termination of independence. Whether the changes come swiftly or more slowly, I’ve discovered four major keys to navigate the stretch and shrink points of life successfully: flexibility, contentment, consistency, and peace.

Flexibility

Whenever I read in The Gospels about Jesus calling His disciples, I wonder in amazement. Would I have responded so quickly to His call?

” ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.”
Matthew 4:19-20

Imagine! One moment you cast your nets — the same nets you cast yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. The next to leave them all behind. Your father taught you the business and passed it hopefully to you. In fact, the business grew successfully over many generations.

Suddenly, in the wink of an eye, everything changed! They left their boats, family, security, familiarity, and comfort, stepping into nothing but uncertainly.

Would I have so quickly responded to the sudden expanding and contracting possibilities? Would you? Their friends did, too!

“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
Matthew 4:21-22

Perhaps the attribute of flexibility qualified them for future success and service. Maybe the willingness to be flexible prepared them to flow through the pending seasons ahead. I wonder if the first test of being an unwavering follower of Christ just might include adaptability to change.

Though I often vocalize my discomfort with the stretching and shrinking as much as my creaking house, I recognize the necessity of remaining pliable through change.

Contentment

When I face contracting and expanding in an area of my life, Paul’s words encourage me.

“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 (and) can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:12-13

We, like Paul, must learn contentment. No one begins life perfectly content. We cry at the discomfort of empty bellies and wet diapers, demanding a remedy. We learn how to scream for our needs to be met now. But as we grow and mature, we learn contentment.

Through contentment, we remember we are part of a bigger picture — an eternal whole. Contentment recognizes the shifting context of all that is earthly. Whether life flows smoothly or bumps along, we realize the temporary nature of things around us.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
1 Timothy 6:6

Paul encourages Timothy to possess two vital attributes — godliness and contentment. This dynamic duo propels us forward so that whether we are expanding or contracting, we win.

Consistency

Certain areas of consistency help to smooth some of the more pain-filled changes and hurried transitions. These include daily rhythms of prayer and worship, Bible reading and meditation on Scripture. It also encompasses Christian community and fellowship.

Daniel demonstrates this so clearly. Jealous and overly zealous colleagues attempted to destroy Daniel. They persuaded the king to issue a decree demanded everyone in the kingdom worship only the king or face deadly consequences.

“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room were the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God, just as he had done before.”
Daniel 6:10

“Just as he had done before.” Daniel refused to allow external circumstances to interrupt his daily routines. Even though life-threatening events swirled around him, he maintained his spiritual priorities.

During even difficult extremes of expanding and contracting, we are also wise to remember our “whole” being. God created us with a spirit, soul, and body. Consistently nurturing ourselves helps to level the impact of often extreme fluxes of change.

Remember to eat well, sleep well, and exercise well. (A life pattern I’m still developing!) Which leads me to the next point of peace and rest.

Peace

In our former home, I found my cheerful place of peace to be in front of the bowed picture window. From there I watched many sunrises. At the beginning of each, I sat, reading my Bible and praying. Hopefully, someone else now finds comfort sitting in a chair and resting peacefully in front of the large window.

In my new home, the windows all face west. Beautiful views of the sun cresting the horizon remain outside my range of vision. But thankfully, peace isn’t a place. Peace is a Person — Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

Do you know what immediately happens when I hear the pops, creaks, and snaps of change around me? My heart instantly becomes troubled and my mind fills with fear.

These words of Jesus comfort me. No matter what kind of expanding or contracting occurs in my life, Jesus Himself gives His perfect peace. His peace bears no resemblance to the world’s version. His peace flows deep, runs wide, and dissipates all worrying, fussing, and fretting.

Maybe you feel a little like I did last night. External “noises” refuse to subside or allow you time to rest. Unwelcome changes press heavy, attempting to squeeze the breath from your lungs. In this moment, may I ask you to slow down — to stop and breathe in His peace. Jesus extends it to us by the bucketful.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7

And when you exhale, whisper a small prayer, a weighty petition, or a genuine thanksgiving.

Not Alone

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of choosing most of the upheavals and downward swings awaiting us. But we can choose to remain flexible, to learn contentment, and developing consistency, while relying on God’s strength and wisdom to carry us through peacefully.

The first place, and perhaps only place, to look is heavenward. Nothing rattles or surprises God. With clear vision, He saw this day, anticipated all you need, and prepared you for it. He has no intentions of abandoning you now!

Be strong. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6

So let the old house creak and pop. Don’t resist or hide from it. Together, may we rest and trust God who has us all under His gentle care.

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Choices: Contentment or Craving, Need or Desire

What do you crave? Chocolate perhaps tops my craving chart; ice cream might head my husband’s crave list. Cravings are attached to desire rather than need. Learning the secret of contentment requires wisdom to know the difference.

God often gets my attention through simple everyday activities. Recently, I was reminded of just such an incident that occurred several years ago.

In the Barn

A mature cow delivered a healthy black calf on a fine spring day. In inexplicable rage she immediately attempted to kill it! I’m not exaggerating! Her whole intention was the destruction of her newborn baby. After rescuing the little one, we put them into the calving barn to give opportunity to “mother up”. However, every brain cell she possessed seemed to collide with that notion!

Several times a day for the next three days, the only way her baby was able to nurse was to confine this stubborn cow in a squeeze chute to prevent her from either kicking or bunting her beautiful baby to death.

During one such feeding episode, fatigued and frustrated I yelled in exasperation, “What is wrong with you? You have a perfectly good baby and you don’t want it? Wise up!”

Instantly I sensed the Lord’s reprimand upon my heart, “MaryAnn, how many times have I given you my perfect gift?  You have rejected and refused it, craving something else.”

Ouch! God’s word hit the target! I knelt in the fresh straw, acknowledging my own foolish stubbornness, as I sought God’s forgiveness through repentance.

Almost simultaneously, the cow in front of me seemed to have an equally profound change of heart. She began to nuzzle her baby, mooing softly and gently to her little one.

Tears ran unrestrained down my cheeks as I realized God was willing to use this not-so-spiritual barn and animals to speak truth regarding my misaligned heart attitude.

Craving Other Food

It had been a couple of years since the Israelites had escaped Egypt. Any positive inclination they may have had was fading fast.

“Now the people complained
about their hardships
in the hearing of the LORD…”
Numbers 11:1

I have an extremely low tolerance for grumbling — unless, of course, if it is me doing the complaining. Don’t get me wrong! I’m quite “Christian” about it! It starts as mild discontent, a touch of cynicism, a pinch of fussing, a bit of criticism here and a little grievance there. If left unchecked, however, the petty picking multiplies rapidly and exponentially.

It is almost humorous to listen to these grumblers,

If only we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost —
also the cucumbers, melons,
leeks, onions and garlic.”
Numbers 11:4,5

No cost? The true cost of slavery was completely evaporating from their foolish minds; the depth of suffering they endured in Egypt was becoming nothing more than fading memory. How quickly they were forgetting how they “groaned in their slavery and cried out“.  (Exodus 2:23, 3:7,8)

Craving Multiplied

The craving of a few spread like deadly gangrene infecting the entire camp.

“Moses heard the people of every family
wailing at the entrance to their tents.
The LORD became exceedingly angry
and Moses was troubled.”
Numbers 11:10

Unchecked internal grumbling will soon push its way to the surface, rising like a volcanic explosion spewing toxic debris everywhere and on everyone!

Notice the difference between the Lord’s and Moses’ perspective — The One angry, the other troubled. God was the One who heard their groaning, responded to their cries, and provided supernatural rescue.  Today, these complainers lacked nothing!

He was, and still is, the LORD who Provides! Daily God covered them with a cloud of protection, shielding them from the desert heat. He, Himself, was their night light, a pillar of fire, warding off imposing darkness. That’s not all!

They all ate the same spiritual food
and drank the same spiritual drink;
for they drank from the spiritual rock
that accompanied them,
and that rock was Christ.”
1 Corinthians 10:3,4

What more could they need? Nothing!

What more did they want? Everything!

Craving Satisfied

Moses heard their words; God saw their heart. They weren’t just asking for food; they were demanding better!

I am compelled to ask some seriously searching questions: Where do I want better? When has God so generously given me everything I truly need, yet I demand more! Do I ever come into agreement with the Israelites, “If only (I) had ________!”

For them it was fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. What do I crave?

A better job,
or better house,
better ministry,
or better spouse,
better family, bank account,
or opportunity?

Craving is attractive to the eyes, creating a desire for or greed after. Sometimes God reluctantly allows us to taste the fruit of our cravings. The Lord gave them what they craved.

“But while the meat was still between their teeth
and before it could be consumed,
the anger of the LORD burned
against the people,
and he struck them with a severe plague.
Therefore the place was named
Kibroth Hattaavah,
because there they buried the people
who had craved other food.”
Numbers 11:33,34

The Cost of Craving

God promises to give us the desires of our heart. Unfortunately, this includes both good and evil! It would be wise to examine carefully our desires so that out of the good desires of our heart we will reap only blessing.

“Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
Psalm 37:4

Kibroth Hattaavah means “graves of craving”.

Just in case you are thinking, God’s love, generosity, and grace are greater this side of the cross, let us consider carefully the present day price tag on humanities insatiable appetite for more and better.

Heart disease, the number one killer world wide, is often the result of improper eating habits — a quest for more than what is needed. Many deaths are indirectly attributed to stress; stress we willing assume in pursuit of “bigger and better”. The killer of HIV/AIDS would be non-existent to a people content within the marriage union. Millions more die through wars, conflict and terrorism — the craving for power, wealth or land. This year alone, 40,000,000 lives have been terminated via abortion, the choice available to a culture craving something other than life!

Graves of craving abound!

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.”
Philippians 4:12

Paul “learned the secret of being content.” Contentment combines satisfaction, gratitude and happiness  in one life-giving package. It is the quality of sufficiency and adequacy even in the slenderest of times. It is the feeling of being strong enough or possessing enough to need no further aid or support. (Thayers)

Substituting cravings for contentment brings health and wholeness into our lives spiritually, physically, emotionally and relationally. Ceasing grumbling isn’t enough! Walking step-by-step in contentment is necessary and so much better! Perhaps even the best of all!

Contentment is one indeed of God’s great gifts available to us now.

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Further Reading:

Second is Better Than First! When Second is Best!