It was my husband Andrew’s idea. We were missionaries in Far East Russia, and we’d experienced an endless winter against a pane of cheerless Siberian skies. My four children and I all felt the restlessness that creeps under the skin after a monotonous schedule and needed a change of scenery – something to brighten our landscape as we plodded into March.
Andrew sensed our needs, (the children crying into their corn kasha each morning alerted him) and suggested we accompany him on a weekend trip to see some friends.
“You can stay with Sveta while Vadeem and I work on the summer building project!” He smiled; my grin quivered. Our friends and their three little children lived in an 8ft by 12ft single-story house. No running water – and … outhouse!
But I donned my adventurer’s cap. Two nights on the train and one night on their sofa … it could be fun.
The train ride was fun: We brought a picnic, the kids bounced from bunk to bunk, we watched the sun set from their train windows.
At seven the next morning, Vadeem met us and raced us along rutted alleys and flimsy green fences until we pulled into his yard. A friendly spiral of black smoke curled from the chimney of his brightly lit home. Sveta was boiling fresh palmeni, and she greeted us like long-lost relatives.
When Andrew left, I wondered what Sveta and I could talk about. She was so quiet, I so … well, not quiet … but a bit undone by the language barrier. I sat in the kitchen. The seven children watching Simba’s Pride on the only sofa. I pulled out some sewing and started to chat.
For eight hours I sewed, (in between running the kids to the outhouse and dressing them for outside twice) fumbled with my Russian and watched my friend.
Sveta never sat. She pumped water into a big barrel, her delicate arms bulging. She peeled about 300 potatoes. She swept her entire house, three times. She made a cake. She went out to the coal pile and hauled in a big bucket and then started her enormous coal stove, which heated the house, twice. She fitted a neighbor in a housedress and sewed up the hem. She cleaned fish. She wore a skirt and looked comfortable in it … and then that night, as she sat by her husband, she rubbed his shoulders and let him poke fun at her. And she smiled the entire time.
Not once did I hear her complain, raise her voice to her children or collapse at the table, drop her head into her hands and sigh, “I just can’t go on.” No, she seemed happy, despite the challenges of her living conditions.
After our three-day visit, I imagine that Sveta dissolved into a puddle of exhaustion, cried and served her kids ramen noodles every meal for a week … but I doubt it. Sveta, at 27, had something that most women (or men for that matter) spend a lifetime trying to find: Contentment. Peace with her lot. Perhaps even fulfillment as she tended the field the Lord had given her.
We returned home on the train, a sauna with the heaters turned on full. I tossed and turned all night, but it was my conscience that kept me awake. How many times did I wish for cold water, or even a backyard for the children to play in? How many times had I melted into gloominess when our schedule overwhelmed us? I think the difference between Sveta’s smile and my frown was attitude and vision. Longing for things I didn’t have – in Russia it was running cold water, boxed convenience food. Today it might be faster Internet access – even a lighter schedule. Regardless, my complaining is a bit like acid, corroding my thankfulness.
“But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” ( Psalm 50:23 NLT ) Could part of that salvation be contentedness?
I went to Sveta’s to brighten the colorless landscape of my tedious daily schedule. I returned to the same palatte … but with the hue of thanksgiving and a vivid determination to never let complaints paint my world gray. Each day is mine to shade how I want … and it starts with contentment.
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Susan May Warren is the founder of My Book Therapy, a writing community to help novelists get published. An award-winning, best-selling author, Susie has published over 40 novels. Her most recent book is Take a Chance on Me, which released in March 2013.2 bloggers like this post!