Our Secret Inquietude

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Listen to “Our Secret Inquietude” by Fred Smith

 

After my father died we were sorting through his papers and found a stock certificate for 100 worthless shares. They were all that was left of what had once been his retirement plan. He had worked for the company for years when he was young and had such confidence in the leadership that he put everything he had in the company stock. All his plans for retirement were based on his belief in that single corporation. For a time it was well-placed trust and the value soared. Then the leadership changed, the value evaporated, and Dad was suddenly left with a future that was nothing like what he had planned. I vaguely remember that period because it was about the time he started using the phrase from Oswald Chambers, “Sit loose to things.”

I’ve been thinking about that while reading Paul’s declaration in Philippians that he had found the “secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” It’s not resignation or giving up. It is, in a sense, saying that no matter my circumstances I can do everything God has in mind for this time of my life. Sometimes that purpose is better served by being in want and other times by having plenty.

The Brevity of Life

Contentment has been elusive for many of us. In fact, it may be more of us feel as Thomas Edison did about it: “Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.”

Americans have never been naturally contented people. Alexis DeTocqueville visited our country in the 19th century and wrote this then, and it is probably as true now:

“A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach, that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them. At first sight there is something surprising in this strange unrest of so many happy men, restless in the midst of abundance. Their taste for physical gratifications must be regarded as the original source of that secret inquietude which the actions of the Americans betray, and of that inconstancy of which they afford fresh examples every day. He who has set his heart exclusively upon the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach it, to grasp it, and to enjoy it. The recollection of the brevity of life is a constant spur to him. Besides the good things which he possesses, he every instant fancies a thousand others which death will prevent him from trying if he does not try them soon. This thought fills him with anxiety, fear, and regret, and keeps his mind in ceaseless trepidation, which leads him perpetually to change his plans and his abode.”

The Most Valuable Time

The more we have, the greater is the fear of losing it. The more we acquire, the more our identity is wrapped up in it. A good friend is very close to losing enough to move his family from very rich back to working class where he started and, in some ways, that may be harder than losing it all.  He’ll lose assets that have come to define him and that “secret inquietude” will become even louder in his head. He has discovered the truth of what Screwtape wrote to Wormwood, “Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is finding his place in it, while really it is finding its place in him.”

For my father, as hard as losing his investment was, that financial disaster was also the beginning of the most productive period of his life. He and my mother moved to Texas where he started a new business. Dad began writing books and spending more time with people as a mentor. In fact, over the next 20 years he made his most valuable contributions to the lives of others. That would never have been possible without the experience of his loss. He found what Paul called contentment and trust.  Maybe sitting loose to things is the antidote to that secret inquietude Paul overcame so long before.

Art by Edward Hopper

You can purchase my book “Where The Light Divides” here.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Avatar
    Lisa Wen
    Reply

    So true, Fred. Thank you for founding a community of generous believers who seek first the kingdom of God and His treasures in heaven.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lisa. It has become more than a conference, hasn’t it? It really is a community. My best to Ellie!

  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    Beautiful Fred! Simply beautiful!!!

    My heart is grateful for your words and Thankful to our God who loves us well even and especially in the separating.

    Lord, keep us from being woven together with the strings of this world! Thank you even for the painful cutting of ties that bind our souls to that which we can see, and for making us truly free. Keep us Jesus!

  • Avatar
    Joe Wu
    Reply

    I wonder if C.S. Lewis would agree with the counter-point to the quote from Screwtape – that our surrender and dependency will knit us to the His Kingdom – here and now; that while we feel we are finding our place in His greater purposes for us today, God is actually finding His rightful place in us. Thank you Fred (again) for this thoughtful piece. Keep writing and keep challenging us to “look up” and find our hope in Him, our Creator, Lord and Savior.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Joe. Yes, I am sure he would. Not only knit our lives to Him but to each other.

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