A darling friend recently said that I make the Shoebox sound like a magical place. A sweet thing to hear, for sure, but let me assure you that our home is regrettably unicorn and pixie dust-free. Life is normal here, and we struggle with contentment sometimes, just like everyone else. Today we’re talking how to stay content and how gratefulness is like a Patronus charm from Harry Potter. Curious? Click through to continue. 🙂
“Magical” does not the Shoebox describe. It’s… life. It’s messy. It’s tiring. It’s beautiful. It’s fun. It’s painful. It’s sweet. We do our best to look at this season as a great adventure, as I suppose all of life is. I try to be intentional about keeping a positive outlook, but I’m not immune to discouragement and discontent.
Every once in awhile, I’ll notice that others seem to have more than we do. And then I think that we should be saving more for retirement and start to worry about our future. And then I start to wish we lived somewhere where Caveman and I could have our own bedroom. And then my closet starts to look like the leftovers from a frumptival (that’s a “frumpy carnival” of course). It’s a downward selfish spiral and before I know it, I’m snipping at my redheaded and wolfpuppy treasures from Heaven, and I’m dissatisfied with what we do have. It’s not a pretty sight.
I’ve found that living in deep gratitude is the best defense against discontent. I write with a positive slant intentionally because it helps my heart stay grateful for gifts like a strong husband who loves me to bits, for health, for shelter, for forgiveness, for grace. When your heart is full of gratitude, then there is no room for discontent. (Ann Voskamp talks a lot about this stuff). A newer car or a nicer home or more trendy clothes don’t have as forceful a pull when your focus isn’t on material things.
When your heart is full of gratitude, then there is no room for discontent.
It’s like the Patronus Charm in Harry Potter. (Sorry to those of you who aren’t HP nerds. This makes sense in my head, so I hope it comes out right.) The Patronus is essentially a large magic shield in the form of an animal that protects the caster from Dementers (think big, scary creatures that suck joy). In the books, the person casting the charm must think of a very strong positive memory in order to protect themselves. The thing is, keeping a Patronus up for protection takes energy and focus. It’s not something that you can put up and then forget about as you grab a cuppa. You see, it is in those moments when I let my guard down (stop my Patronus, which I like to imagine is an Arabian horse) that I start to lose my joy. When I move my focus off of how fully God provides for our family and onto where I wish we lived or how big I wish our paycheck is, discontent grows.
This positive-thinking stuff can sound a little self-help, so let me clarify. I’m not advocating flimsy happy thoughts to protect from jealousy. I’m suggesting cultivating a heart atmosphere that is grateful for foundational things (such as the Creator’s love and forgiveness, the Savior’s grace and selflessness), and it is therefore shielded from discontent. But cultivating isn’t passive. It’s active; it’s intentional; it’s ongoing.
It takes constant focusing and re-focusing on your blessings and, crucially, learning to practice gratitude to the One who gives all life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).
So this Patronus-cultivating, this active protection from discontent is a continuing project. It means rooting out ungrateful or untrue thoughts the moment they enter my head. It means being intentional not to dwell on what I don’t have and think I deserve.
I have a very practical way of monitoring my thought life, and it is based on Philippians 4:8. I weigh every thought against the qualities, the guidelines laid out in that verse. The thought—is it true? Is it noble? Is it right? Is it pure? Is it lovely? Is it admirable? Is it praiseworthy? If I answer “no” to any of those qualifications, it gets tossed out. I literally stop the thought, which sometimes takes an actual verbalization of the untruth out loud. Sometimes I have to give the untrue or inadmirable thought the boot several times before it sticks, but that’s part of the active process.
Magic? Oh, no, there’s none of that in the Shoebox. The only magical thing about this place is the astounding growth that takes place during naps and nighttime—how little bodies can actually expand and mature before your eyes and yet you can’t see it. But joy and gratitude? We’ve got that in spades most of the time.
The key to contentment is focusing on the One from whom joy resonates, and often that requires a Philippians 4:8 Patronus. For when my shield is up, then my heart can truly rest, protected by an insulation of gratitude.
…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.