A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to share time with the women of the Montana Synodical Women’s Organization as they hosted their biennial convention. As with any convention, I met many amazing women and shared times of laughter and fellowship that are the hallmarks of a Women of the ELCA gathering. But one woman named Pauline provided me with a special message that I will not easily forget.
She took some time with me on Saturday evening to share some of her life’s experiences. It was a familiar story of loss, sacrifice and regret. And yet, she said there was a moment when her life turned around… it was when she stopped focusing on what she didn’t have and began to concentrate her gratitude on one simple concept. She called it “the joy of accomplishment.” To her it meant that she needed to stop worrying over whether she had the perfect career or a “complete” life, but instead to focus on the satisfaction of having a regular paycheck or the comfort of sleeping in a warm bed. Up until that point she had been consumed with her own “state of lack” in her life that she was unable to see the abundance she already possessed.
This message, so simple and elegant, might also be translated into our own lives. How many of us are consumed with the pursuit of perfection? We are not satisfied unless our achievements match what the secular world deems success. We are focused on what we lack… on how we don’t measure up to a societal standard instead of being grateful for the abundance that God has already provided for us.
One of the verses from our Triennial Gathering was from Philippians 4:8.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Just like what Pauline shared with me, this passage tells us that God does not ask us to be perfect. God is simply asking us to fulfill the promise of our authentic selves… to tap into that place God creates for us that shows gratitude for the simple abundance that God provides for us… to be satisfied and content with the blessings God has already given to us.
Pauline made me think about what might be weighing me down with unnecessary worry. She reminded me that sometimes it is enough just to be contributing and thriving. And she inspired me to consider what negative thoughts might be holding me back from just simply being grateful… “the joy of accomplishment”, she said… but I think it is more like being attentive and thankful for God’s abundant grace.
Jenny Michael was elected president of Women of the ELCA at the Eighth Triennial Convention this past July and will serve for the 2011-2014 triennium.