Circle of Pain vs. the Kingdom of God: Lessons in santosha aka contentment



            “Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not– As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.”—Thomas Obediah Chisholm


I have recently been wrestling with the notion of contentment—more to the point—having faith that turn-of-events and/or daily circumstances are occurring as they should be; and simply leaning in to say, “Yes,” to all experience, rather than resist or attempt to change/modify it. In fact, in addition to numerous readings and other assignments for this month, one part of my yoga teacher training homework is to practice santosha, which is Sanskrit for contentment. I have been asked to: notice when I feel content; find small spaces of contentment in the busyness of life; and contemplate on how this feels.


This is a challenging concept for me because, as I most recently shared, I like to attach to “The Story of How Life Should Occur” as written by the great-all-knowing Stephanie Hill. Examples of these sure-to-be best selling titles include, but are not limited to: My own child should not have suffered as she did all through her senior year of high school. My mother-in-law should not have suffered an excruciating end-of-life. My parents should not have to face the painful issues that come from aging; and, as a matter of fact, neither should my husband and I. Friends, co-workers, and loved ones should not have to experience painful events. My students should not have to struggle with learning new concepts. The world should not be filled with violent rhetoric and actions. Honestly, how can any of us experience contentment when life is often filled with much pain and suffering?


Children should not grow up so quickly, becoming a grandparent should not occur too quickly, and my parents should have to deal with the aches and pains of aging–for that matter neither should my husband and I!


“Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.”


I was exiting the school in which I teach on a recent cloudy, rainy afternoon while mulling over this notion of contentment.   As I happened to be exiting the building at 5:00 pm, a set of church bells began chiming an old hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I smiled instinctively because I have always loved that song.


“How fortunate it is to work at a school near an old church that still plays these great hymns like the church bells to which I once listened in Raceland, KY so many years ago whenever I stayed with my grandparents.”


I drifted into a brief moment of reverie harkening to all the beautiful moments when at 8:00 am, noon, and 5:00 pm those Raceland church bells would chime in the background of my childhood through young adult days. Scenes, scents, and sounds flashed through my mind’s eye before it occurred to me, “Was this a moment of contentment?” I paused in the middle of the parking lot, rain drip-dropping around me, and focused on the melody until the last note was played. Then, I peacefully sighed and entered my car for the ride home.

My grandparents’ home in which I spent over 30 years listening to hymns chimed by nearby church bells at daily, regular intervals.


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”


Later that week, I was struggling through an incredibly long day. I was tired, physically and mentally, and fighting through some pain—that also happened to be both mental and physical. Driving home in the dark of the same evening, I turned on an audible book and just happened to hear a story about a woman who went to her priest weeping profusely as she unloaded all her worries and sorrows. When she was finally spent, he took one of her hands and drew a circle in the center of her palm with his finger. He told her that the circle represented the place where she was currently living with all of her very real pain and suffering. He explained that it could not be avoided, and she must let it be. Then, he covered her hands with his, asking her to remember there is a greatness and a wholeness in the Kingdom God; and, in this merciful space, her immediate life could unfold.


When experiencing pain and/or suffering, we must surrender into God’s mercy as it hold us and wraps around us much in the way this blanket is comforting and supporting my cat, Tippi Tail.


“This pain,” he added, as he touched the center of her palm, “is held always in God’s love.”

He added that as she began to know both the pain and the love, she would heal.

“By surrendering to your pain, you are surrendering to the mercy of an ever-loving God. The more you let go, the more you are held by the Infinite compassion of God.” I audibly sighed. Was this, yet, another moment of contentment?



That same long, grueling day, our school discovered unexpected disturbance to our playground:  a tree had been blown over by a storm the previous night, crushing part of the playground fence.  Of course, that “should” not have happened.


“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!” Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!”


The next day, I talked at length by phone with my daughter, now in her second semester at Bethany College.

“Mom, I never realized how miserable I was last year,” she emphatically stated.

Our conversation continued, and I added that I had often wondered if she would have been better served with early entry into college after her second or third year of high school.

“No, Mom. As much as I hated that last year of school, I had to go through it in order to appreciate how much I love Bethany and the whole college experience.”


In other words, she, too, had to learn to let the pain be, and rely on Divine Providence, in order to heal and grow into a greater understanding.


My daughter, pictured in the floral dress, is positively glowing as she appreciates with greater clarity moments of joy.


Learning to say, “Yes,” to each of life’s moments: be it pain, sadness, impatience, depression, disappointment, injury/illness, loss, and so forth; or likewise, times of happiness, patience, joy, successes, wellness, and abundance is still a skill for which I think I must continue to work. In part, contentment means I must fall in love, not only with my life, but also with the Divine Mercy that carries each of us through the wide expanse of the human experience. Each day of life, I must remember, is complete–no matter what form it takes—and for each experience of life, I must be grateful.  And, perhaps, that is the key to contentment: gratitude.  Gratitude for each moment–irrespective to the life script I have written.













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