A few years ago, a mission trip took me to a small church in Africa. The sights the smells and the culture will forever shape my life. The experience was life-altering in ways I can’t begin to describe.
On one particular night, I was on duty in the back section of the church with a small group of the local children in tow. I was a favorite amongst them, due primarily to the fact that my fair skin and hair was such a novelty. As the work progressed in the front of the church, we carried on hushed conversations in the back – away from the stern glances of the adults.
In addition to my unusual looks, I was from America. To these children, just the name “America” seemed to hold mystic and promise. They asked me longingly about the fashion, the boy bands, and a world where they imagined they could all be super-stars. The general opinion was that America consisted of nothing but the movie stars, and popularity. They saw America through romantic colored glasses, and it had become their fairytale.
At first I was somewhat amused. My childhood in the rural farm communities of the United States was very different from their perception of America as “one big Hollywood.“ I gently tried to tell them of my life experiences and lead them to a broader view of the vast country and diverse lives that make up America. We talked about their lives and I told them about all of the beautiful things I had seen in their country – the strange and yet awe-inspiring customs, the sense of community and tradition that we have lost. In their wistful faces I saw that nothing I told them was going to change their opinion. They wanted to experience the wonders of America for themselves.
How I wished that I could impart some breathtaking bit of wisdom on these children, and leave them eager to change their own country for the better. To make them want to stand up for all that is good, for their own dreams and become positive members of their society. I left them wishing in could change their perspective, but incredible grateful that they had changed mine.
The perspective from these kids made me realize how quickly I do the same thing in life. How often I have given the unknown all of the delightful pleasure I wish it to have with none of the daily hardships. Our society rushes from one product to another, the next destination place, the latest iPhone, and yet we are just as unhappy as we were before.
It all comes down to this little thing called contentment. We have to learn to accept the things we cannot change and appreciate what we have before we can make this world a better place.
Being content with what we have is acceptance. To accept is to recognize the beauty in what we have, and not to focus on what we do not have. We read in the First Letter to Timothy, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”
A lesson in contentment learned from a group of young children in a foreign country, and a lesson I hope I never forget. I recall their smiling, wistful faces, and it gives me courage to choose to live today, grateful, recognizing humanity for what it is, and choosing to be content.