One of the lasting by-products of having attended Catholic schools most of my life is that, without thinking, I can list off both French verb conjugations and endless lists of grammar. When it came to the timed grammar quizzes, the demonstrative pronouns were always my favorite, mostly because there were so few of them. This, that, these, those. Easy peasy.
These four little pronouns have taken on new meaning as I daily wage the battle for contentment here and now. This and these versus that and those.
The circumstances of my life—the family God has called me to care for, my current stage of life, the body I walk around in, and the neighborhood in which I live are my portion and my cup.I am learning to love them—and sometimes even like them—not because they are ideal or exactly what I dreamed they would be, but because a loving and all-wise Father has drawn these places, these boundary lines, for me.
They are my this and these. This body, this home, this schedule; these unmet longings, these struggles, these hard circumstances, these unknowns.
It seems that as soon as I have settled down comfortably and contentedly into my this and these, pesky that and those come knocking on the door of my heart. “If I could just get to that season or have that home or a child like that one, then I would be able to rest or be still. If I could have those things or hang out with those people or receive those accolades, life would be complete.”
Our eyes are always scanning the surrounding circumstances and situations, feeding the latent discontent that dwells in each of us. The news and social media bring that and these into our homes and hearts and minds with the scroll of a finger.
The Old Testament patriarch, Jacob, after God graciously met with him and opened his eyes, said, “‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven'” (Gen.. 28:16–17).
I desperately want to be fully present in my this, I want to engage and give myself to my these. I don’t want to miss the gates of heaven that are within my gaze and grasp. To do so, I need to remember the one who has lovingly drawn up these boundary lines for me and mine. I need to look back on this day and see the invisible things that are happening amid the visible and often painfully mundane.I need to hear from God in his word so I can be renewed in his perspective, his values, and his timing, as they are so counter to the ways of the world and the ways within me.
Psalm 16 provides my battle cry to be present with this and these; however, a few key verses help anchor me throughout the day:
Keep me safe, my God, for in You I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from You, I have no good thing.’” (Ps. 16:1–2).
Later, the psalmist continues,
“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Ps. 16:5–6).
There is only one who has ever perfectly said and believed the words of this psalm. Christ alone wrestled through and remained in the this and these God had given him. Yet, he was willingly handed over and abandoned to death; his body saw terrible pain and decay. He took that punishment for those people—us—that we may experience true life in him, beginning right now. The gospel frees and fuels us to be present and content—right here in our this and with our these.