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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.”