Tired and worn after a difficult meeting, I’m eager to be home. The sight that greets me when I open the door is a dirty pan and a dish with lunch scraps.
“At least he could have put these in the sink,” I think, removing the mess from the counter.
I open the fridge to look for something to tide me over until dinner. A bag of green beans rolls out and drops on the floor with a thud. I pick it up and shove it next to a Styrofoam box housing half a restaurant meal. Milk, cheese, fruits, and vegetables take up every square inch. It’s stuffed.
“Rats,” I think, and quickly close the door on the mess.
I hate cleaning the refrigerator. No, I mean I really hate it. It rates right up there with going to the dentist. When it comes right down to it, I’m not so fond of green beans either.
But it wasn’t until I verbalized my list of grievances that I actually heard them. My husband listened quietly to my tirade that evening, his head cocked to one side. An irritating twitch of his lip caused me to hear myself. I didn’t like it.
Far too many things bug me. Little things. Inward complaints and criticisms flow easily. My reactions are negative. I wonder why. When I look for reasons, I come up short. I have no viable excuse. When I consider how things are going, all in all I’d say pretty well. Yet a certain dissatisfaction unsettles me.
Sometimes it’s easy to manage insignificant irritations, while other times they pile up into one grumpy woman. Even happy things seem insipid, and expectations don’t reach their pinnacle excitement. In those moments, the word joy strikes an uncomfortable contrast in my consciousness. Maybe that is what the book of Philippians is supposed to do.
Writing from prison, Paul didn’t seem to be in a place of joy, but joy is one of his repeated themes. He had real things to complain about: plumbing, food, neighbors, and the simple fact that he was in prison not because of something wrong he’d done, but for the sake of Christ.
As I read through the book of Philippians, I am struck over and over by Paul’s intentionality, his determination to live life with action, purpose, and a Christlike attitude. I am impressed by the number of times he brings the reader back to the discipline of the mind. It’s not surprising, though, because that is where so many conversations happen.
Can you find joy in what you don’t enjoy? Paul brings the book to its conclusion with a list of eight things that have the power to pivot a grumpy mind.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think (or meditate) about these things” (Philippians 4:8 ESV).
I mull over the frustrations that bark at my heels like yapping dogs, the thought-conversations. None of them fit into Paul’s list. Could I rewire my mind tapes and replace them with a radically different list? Might Paul’s exhortation bring discipline and revolutionize my negative spiral? If, as Paul commands, I meditate on those goals, fleshing them out, verbalizing each one, will I be better prepared next time a mess greets me?
- Focus on truth, not assumption.
- Think nobly and respectfully of others.
- Embrace righteousness and justice.
- Maintain purity in thought and action toward others.
- Seek to be pleasant and agreeable.
- Believe the best.
- Conduct myself with moral virtue.
- Worthy of Praise. Look for what brings praise to God and others.
Considering each separately, I realize some cleaning out needs to happen, and I’m not talking about refrigerators. These are the fruits of a mind under submission to God’s Spirit. They are not natural to me, but those eight thoughts are where Paul chose to dwell. His journey through tough times produced a pathway of growth that led to joy in the Lord regardless of his unhappy circumstances.
“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11 ESV).
Sylvia Schroeder and her husband care for missionaries world-wide with Avant Ministries. Captivated by God’s Word she writes with the perspective of someone who lived and raised four children overseas. Twelve grandchildren in her heart often wiggle onto her pages. She blogs at When the House is Quiet.
Photograph © Scott Umstattd, used with permission