Contentment

The dictionary defines contentment as a state of happiness and satisfaction. Synonyms include gratification, fulfillment, and serenity. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul said he had learned to be content in all situations, whether facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need.[1] When I think of contentment, I think of Aunt Mary Kate.

Born June 4, 1903, the youngest sibling and only sister of my beloved grandfather[2], Mary Kate Phillips was much like her older brother. Slight of build and grounded in her faith, her big heart overflowed with love for others, especially her family. By the world’s standards, she was poor and most likely would have met the government’s criteria for poverty. She lived in a small 3-room house comprised of a sitting area, bedroom and kitchen, a stone’s throw from the house she was born in. For much of her life, she didn’t have running water or an indoor bathroom. I don’t know if she ever traveled outside North Carolina. Aunt Mary Kate was just shy of her 44th birthday when she lost her husband suddenly one night, presumably to a stroke. She lived alone for almost 50 years afterwards, choosing not to remarry.

My initial memories of Aunt Mary Kate date back to when my grandfather was alive. We’d sometimes cut through the field on our way to or from the post office so we could pay her a visit. But my most cherished memories came later. Early in my career, I worked a two-year stint in tech marketing. I was still living in Delaware at the time and most of my customers were located in North and South Carolina. Aunt Mary Kate and a number of other relatives were conveniently positioned between the Raleigh-Durham airport and a carpet mill I called on in Aberdeen, NC. As you might imagine, I tried to fit in visits with my kinfolks as often as possible. Although I got to see her at other times over the years, the one-on-one conversations during business trip stop-overs were among the best.

Aunt Mary Kate was always delighted to see me and welcomed me into her tiny dwelling with a big smile and a warm hug. The walls of her sitting room were lined with photos of family members. She’d take time to tell me about first one and then another, beaming with pride as she recounted accomplishments or pointed out new babies.

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Probably the most beautiful of Aunt Mary Kate’s material possessions. She wanted her namesake, my daughter Mary, to have it.

 

Based on her demeanor, you would have thought she lived in luxury, lacking nothing in terms of worldly comforts, but that was far from the case. Yet my mom attests to the fact she never heard her complain, in spite of her meager means and being widowed so young and losing a beloved 18-year old great-grandson to an auto accident.

Though I’m sure she had moments of doubt and great sorrow, I never heard her grumble either, hence I always think of Aunt Mary Kate when asked for an example of contentment. Because contentment is about what’s on the inside. It’s not about our surroundings or our circumstances or the value of our possessions. Nor is it an emotion. “It’s a state of being, anchored firmly in the confidence that God is sovereignly working out the details of our lives, moment by moment from beginning to end.”[3] That’s why Paul could say he’d learned to be content in any and every situation – the reason for his hope and the guarantee of his well-being, both temporal and eternal, rested in One who never changes.[4] The same One Aunt Mary Kate loved and trusted.

I believe thankfulness is a key component of contentment. Sometimes I’d stop by the small general store near Aunt Mary Kate’s house and pick up a Co-cola and a moon pie for her. If you’d seen her smile and heard her expressions of gratitude, you would have thought I’d given her something much more expensive. But the love given and received in those exchanges made the gift priceless. It’s a love that still touches me today and led me to name my firstborn after this dear, godly woman.[5]

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Aunt Mary Kate, 84, holding baby Mary, her 9-month old namesake. Taken August 2, 1987 on the porch of Aunt Mary Kate’s home.

 

 

I like to imagine visiting Aunt Mary Kate’s heavenly abode. I hope it will have a porch and a couple of rocking chairs where we can sit together. I look forward to seeing her sweet smile again. I know I will for Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and has promised to return and gather us to himself, FOREVER. [6]

In the meantime, may we be content, rejoicing always, praying continually and giving thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus,[7] the One in whom all God’s promises are “Yes”.[8]

 

[1] Philippians 4:11-12

[2] See “Eating apples”, in Archives, October 2015

[3] Pastor Ben Duncan, Grace Covenant PCA, Dallas, GA, sermon “The Secret of Contentment”, July, 17, 2016

[4] Hebrews 13:8

[5] My daughter, Mary Elizabeth, is named after Aunt Mary Kate and my sister, Mary Jeannette, who died in infancy.

[6] John 14:2-3

[7] 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

[8] 2 Corinthians 1:20

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2 thoughts on “Contentment

  1. This is wonderful, Patsy. I wish I had known your aunt, but I am glad to have had a few glimpses of her through your post. May I go with you to visit her in heaven?

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