What should I have asked for?

Sally - The Fisherman and his Wife

There is no end of craving. Hence contentment alone is the best way to happiness. Therefore, acquire contentment. ~Sivananada

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ~Socrates

I have always loved fables, folklore and fairy tales! As a child, I repeatedly read Brothers’ Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. When our older children were small, I spent countless hours reading beautifully illustrated versions of fables, folklore and fairy tales. In a tiny library in Wisconsin, some dear soul stocked the library full of them – a true treasure! I never tire of the countless lessons and examples found within the pages of good stories! One of the best things about these tales is that you can find them in all cultures in various forms. These stories are a wonderful supplement to studies in culture and geography! Still, the very best thing is how often we can learn profound lessons from simple tales. In that same library in Wisconsin, I came across a Russian version of a tale I loved as a child – The Fisherman and his Wife. Having been a wife and mother for almost a decade at the time (it was in the late 90’s), the story had an entirely different meaning for me. From that point on, I would remind myself often not to be a fishwife: always looking for more.

Husband,” said the woman, “didn’t you catch anything today?”

“No,” said the man. “I caught a flounder, but he told me that he was an enchanted prince, so I let him swim away.”

“Didn’t you ask for anything first?” said the woman.

“No,” said the man. “What should I have asked for?”

According to Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, contentment is “mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are; willing to accept circumstances, a proposed course of action…peace of mind; mental or emotional satisfaction.” Biblically it is also translated as sufficiency! The Greek words autarkeia (ow·tar·ki·ah) and autarkes (ow·tar·kace) specifically means: 1 a perfect condition of life in which no aid or support is needed. 2 sufficiency of the necessities of life. 3 a mind contented with its lot and 1 sufficient for one’s self, strong enough or processing enough to need no aid or support. 2 independent of external circumstances. 3 contented with one’s lot, with one’s means, though the slenderest.”

The New Bible Dictionary describes it like this: “It is not a passive acceptance of the status quo, but the positive assurance that God has supplied one’s needs, and the consequent release from unnecessary desire. The Christian can be ‘self-contained’ because he has been satisfied by the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:9). The Christian spirit of contentment follows the fundamental commandment of Ex. 20:17 against covetousness, the precept of Pr. 15:17; 17:1, the exhortations of the prophets against avarice (e.g. Mi. 2:2) and supremely the example and teaching of Jesus, who rebuked the discontent which grasps at material possessions to the neglect of God (Lk. 12:13–21) and who commended such confidence in our Father in heaven as will dispel all anxiety concerning physical supplies (Mt. 6:25–32).”

  • Philippians 4: 11-13 11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
  • Proverbs 19:21-23 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 22 What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar. 23 The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:8 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

I remember when our home was brand new. Oh, how I felt so amazingly blessed. It truly brought me to tears of joy. I remember how I felt when we signed the papers—utterly ecstatic! We moved in and got settled. It didn’t take long for me to look around and see what needed to be done for it to be ‘just right.’ We planned to put up a fence after brush removal and yard work — and finish the basement after a while. Of course, my time table was not the same as Jonathan’s time table. I would stare at the piles of brush and think, If we could just get the brush removed and the fence done then the lack of grass and landscaping will not bother me…I’ll just be so thankful for a fence… I was more thrilled than you could ever imagine when the family project of the month was building a fence! Finally!!

For an unestablished amount of time, I stared at the lovely fence and I was truly thankful. “This is the best backyard ever!” The lack of finished landscaping and the huge square of red dirt was hardly noticeable because the fence was oh-so-amazing. I really did not even care that our lawn was not yet landscaped like we planned originally. We needed more time and money and I knew that. It lasted a long time. Alas, one day I thought, “Well, the fence IS beautiful, BUT…”

The flounder swam up and said, “What does she want then?”

“Oh,” said the man, “I did catch you, and now my wife says that I really should have asked for something. She doesn’t want to live in a filthy shack any longer. She would like to have a cottage.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She already has it.”

The man went home, and his wife was standing in the door of a cottage, and she said to him, “Come in. See, now isn’t this much better?”

There was a little front yard, and a beautiful little parlor, and a bedroom where their bed was standing, and a kitchen, and a dining room. Everything was beautifully furnished and supplied with tin and brass utensils, just as it should be. And outside there was a little yard with chickens and ducks and a garden with vegetables and fruit.

“Look,” said the woman. “Isn’t this nice?”

“Yes,” said the man. “This is quite enough. We can live here very well.”

“We will think about that,” said the woman.

When it is never enough, it is discontent! Sometimes life is smooth sailing and golden days. Blessings are counted. Then, it just creeps up. We don’t even see it coming. Does it do that to you? I lived happily in my beautiful home…the grass grew and it was green indeed. That basement worked well, even unfinished. I happily tidied it up telling myself, “This works well for now. I can wait patiently for a finished basement.” In time I knew it would be done just right and would be lovely. Years pass, thoughts creep in once again, “This basement has worked okay, but it’s long overdue for finishing….” Years pass. I look past the beauty and see only what I feel is lacking. “This is a mess. How can I enjoy this area at all?”

Oh, wife,” said the man, “the cottage is good enough. Why would we want to live in a palace?”

“I know why,” said the woman. “Now you just go. The flounder can do that.”

“Now, wife, the flounder has just given us the cottage. I don’t want to go back so soon. It may make the flounder angry.”

“Just go,” said the woman. “He can do it, and he won’t mind doing it. Just go.”

The man’s heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. He said to himself, “This is not right,” but he went anyway.

Unlike the brazen fishwife, we usually recognize our discontent. It often starts with irritation and frustration, of course that grass isn’t ever green enough on our side of the fence. We know, like the fisherman, that it is enough—but like the fishwife, we determine that we want it and it can be done.

Don’t misunderstand. Making improvements isn’t discontent. Suggesting changes is perfectly fine. Wanting to fix up your living space, enjoy your home, make a haven for your family — these things are good! Here’s when it’s not good. When it is not enough, it’s not good. When your desire for change and improvement and space and greener grass affects your mood. When your attitude reflects your discontent, there is a problem.

Then they both went to bed, but she was not satisfied. Her desires would not let her sleep. She kept thinking what she wanted to become next.

The man slept well and soundly, for he had run about a lot during the day, but the woman could not sleep at all, but tossed and turned from one side to the other all night long, always thinking about what she could become, but she could not think of anything.

Then the sun was about to rise, and when she saw the early light of dawn she sat up in bed and watched through the window as the sun came up.

“Aha,” she thought. “Could not I cause the sun and the moon to rise?”

“Husband,” she said, poking him in the ribs with her elbow, “wake up and go back to the flounder. I want to become like God.”

The man, who was still mostly asleep, was so startled that he fell out of bed. He thought that he had misunderstood her, so, rubbing his eyes, he said, “Wife, what did you say?”

“Husband,” she said, “I cannot stand it when I see the sun and the moon rising, and I cannot cause them to do so. I will not have a single hour of peace until I myself can cause them to rise.”

She looked at him so gruesomely that he shuddered.

“Go there immediately. I want to become like God.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, falling on his knees before her, “the flounder cannot do that. He can make you emperor and pope, but I beg you, be satisfied and remain pope.”

Anger fell over her. Her hair flew wildly about her head. Tearing open her bodice she kicked him with her foot and shouted, “I cannot stand it! I cannot stand it any longer! Go there immediately!”

The only way I know to put off discontent is to put on contentment. “Count your Blessings” — it really is the answer. If we are busy counting our blessings we will be too busy to count up our ‘discontents.’ We must believe that we are blessed, that our needs are fulfilled, that our spiritual blessings far outweigh our desires for physical blessings, and that God gives us good things. It is enough. No. It is more than enough!

  • 1 Timothy 6:6-10 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Hebrews 13:4-5 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
  • Luke 3:14 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.
  • Proverbs 15:13-17 13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. 14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly. 15 All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. 16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. 17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
  • Proverbs 16:8 8 Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.
  • Psalm 107:8-9 8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

By all means, make changes and seek improvements. Just don’t sit back frustrated, irritated, and ultimately cultivating discontent because things don’t happen on your time table. We are always going to have circumstances that challenge us — our response is what it is all about. We are content when we feel that we have enough. We are not content when we are constantly yearning for more!

Contentment is learned. It is not dependent on personality or circumstances. It is from WITHIN. It is not resolving one’s self to misery, but reaching upward toward God in every circumstance. Putting on contentment means putting off covetousness (read Luke 12:15), worry, (read Matthew 6:25-34) and grumbling (read Philippians 2:14-14; James 5:9).

If you’ve never read The Fisherman and his Wife  I highly recommend it. The quotes I used here are only a small part of the entire story and it is obviously better read in its entirety. It has a lesson that is of the utmost importance to every child of God. It has haunted me and pricked my heart repeatedly over the years. Having planted seeds in my heart as a child, it has allowed me to see more clearly the many admonishments found within the holy word of God. Reading the verses about contentment, I can see that old man by the sea who wants for nothing and I realize that I am much more like his wife. I am humbled and I know that instead of thinking, “I want…” – I ought to be thinking, “It is enough. It is my portion!”

  • Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.
  • Psalm 84:10-12 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

There is a fable told about a child who grows up looking longingly across the valley to a house on a hill — a house with shining golden windows, so different from his own. While the child is happy with his home and family, he yearns to someday visit the house with the golden windows and experience the magic of that unknown place. One day, he is finally old enough to make the short journey on his own. He crosses the valley, seeking to visit the house with the golden windows. Upon his arrival, he finds the longed-to-visit house with windows quite similar to his own. Discouraged and disappointed, he turns to leave. Yet, in the distance he sees it…the house with the shining golden windows is his very own! Do you recognize your golden windows?

Category: Musings
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