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Prefer the Given

Learning to look at our (crazy, busy, stressful, less-than-satisfying) lives with grateful eyes

My friend Stacey was over two months ago for tea and snacks when she announced she was heading to France for two weeks by herself. Let me repeat: France. Two weeks. By herself.

Honestly, nothing could have sounded better to me at that moment. A moment where it was all I could do not to scream and throw something at the wall behind which my kids fought and yelled and the TV blared in the other room. A moment where my conversation with Stacey was weighed down by a sense of how far behind I was on some work deadlines and how overwhelmed I was with work left to do still today. A moment when I felt like two weeks alone—in France or, for that matter, the moon—would be the cure for all that ailed me.

So I faced down a choice: Either I could "prefer the given"—as my friend Jennifer had once suggested—in my own life (the noise, the deadlines, and the pressure) and be glad for Stacey. Or I could prefer the gift Stacey got (the adventure, the food, the time to think and write) and seethe with hatred for Stacey and wallow in bitterness for my own life.

Really. That's what it always comes down to. That's our choice.

I went ahead and chose the former. With this choice, I was not only able to stay friends with Stacey, but I was able truly to enjoy her beautiful photos and rejoice with her as I read her posts of her days in Paris and in the south of France.

I still think her trip sounds great—and I do long for some of the scenic peace in which she was able to soul search and pray about where God wanted her and what he wanted her to do—but it's not an opportunity God has given me.

Apparently he wants me to soul-search and pray in a different kind of peace. Maybe the sort my friend Emily described in a recent tweet: "Something I'm learning … gratitude and peace of mind are inseparable." Emily is a songwriter, so she's always tweeting lovely thoughts. But this one particularly struck me.

So much of the frustration I feel in life, so much of why I feel like life has taken a wrong turn or was just not supposed to be this way stems from not having peace of mind.

I have chaos of mind, most of the time. Peace proves increasingly difficult to come by. Even on those afternoons when I get to rock on my front porch or stroll through my neighborhood, peace is too fleeting to snatch and reserve for later.

And yet sadly, Emily's tweet touches on something I hadn't considered. Peace of mind doesn't come from outward circumstances. It comes from inside—from just 12 or so inches below that mind. From our hearts. Specifically, from where our hearts feel glad and content.

Emily's connecting peace of mind and contentment is brilliant. Probably biblical, even. And it's exactly what living gladly enables us to do. We can live at peace with who God made us and where God put us. When we're content and when we're at peace with this we can, as Paul says, "do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

And God not only has a lot of strength to give us, but much more. So instead of looking around at whatever someone else has, let's take a look at what we've got. What God has given us—our things, our circumstances, our location, our friends, our family, our jobs. Look at the good—and the bad—through grateful eyes, and seek the peace that comes with that.

This means that instead of grumbling about bad times and wrong turns, we thank God for them. That we stop striving for more. That we prefer our circumstances. That we are glad for them. For unpaid bills. For misbehaving kids. For disappointing friends. For unsatisfying spouses. For boring lives. For illness. For confusion. For sorrow. For loneliness.

In the midst of our being glad for things that hurt or frustrate us, we can—and should—certainly still pray for a change in circumstances. Even Jesus did this! But we recognize that God can use all this for the better. For the best! And we live gladly because of it.

Excerpted from Grumble Hallelujah. Copyright ©2011 by Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc. All rights reserved.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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