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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Secret of Contentment

Major League Baseball no-hitters are exceedingly rare.


The league’s most storied franchise, the New York Yankees, have played more than 18,000 games since 1903.  Yet they’ve only managed to pull off 13 of them. 


One of the most memorable happened on September 4, 1993, when Jim Abbott took the mound against the Cleveland Indians.  There was pandemonium when the last Cleveland hitter grounded out to shortstop – and not just because the Yanks had won another game without giving up a hit.


Abbott, a left-handed pitcher, was born without a right hand.


How is it possible for a one-handed pitcher to score a no-hitter, not to mention sustain a 10-year career in the majors?   


You just have to know Jim Abbott. 


The native of Flint, Michigan, grew up believing that he was not defined by what he didn’t have.  Even though his right arm ended at his wrist, he learned to excel at sports.  He batted .427 one year for Flint Central High School, including seven home runs.  He was also the star quarterback of his school’s football team. 


Abbott astonished onlookers with his pitching at the University of Michigan, and was the first baseball player to win the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.  He pitched the final game of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul when baseball was a demonstration sport, assuring America of the gold medal.  He even finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting in 1991 when he was with the California Angels.


Sportswriter Mike Lupica once asked Abbott if there was anything he couldn’t do.  “I can’t button the darn buttons on my left cuff,” he grinned. 


But let’s get back to the basic mechanics of throwing a 90-mph fastball to the plate, then preparing, in the blink of an eye, to field your position. 


Lupica writes, “Abbott was a wonder… The end of his right arm would go into the pocket of his glove.  He’d throw the ball and then switch the glove to his left hand to catch or field.  If it was a ground ball, the glove would be pressed to his body under his shoulder by his right arm and he’d throw somebody out.  It was all done so quickly and effortlessly it seemed to be magic.  Or sleight of hand.”


And all without a hand.


Once, in high school, seven players in a row on the opposing team tried to bunt their way to first base.  Abbott threw out six of them.  So much for the notion that you should be able to take advantage of a disadvantaged person. 


In truth, Jim never saw himself as disadvantaged.  “I hear a lot about how inspirational I am,” he once said.  “But I don’t see myself as being inspirational.  Whether you’re rich or poor or one-handed or whatever, your own childhood just seems natural, because it’s the only one you know.” 


Without even trying, Abbott has provided inspiration to an entire generation of kids – some without hands, some without feet, some without arms or legs – who have dreamed of competing at the highest level.


We can define ourselves either by what we have or by what we don’t have.  The first is the pathway of hope.  The second is the pathway to bitterness. 


What Jim Abbott grasps is the incredible power of contentment.  The apostle Paul told the young Christians at Philippi, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.   I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (4:11-13). 


We can do all things through the One who gives us strength.


God has gifted and equipped each of us to carry out whatever he has called us to do in this world.  And he will provide the strength we need if we choose to abandon ourselves to him.  That is the secret of contentment.


Of course, we live in a culture that finds that hard to believe.  If you’re stuck with lousy circumstances, you owe it to yourself to trade up for better ones.  On this view, contentment is a condition that you must achieve through a lifetime of transactions. 


That’s why we trade up for jobs that are more interesting and pay higher benefits.


We trade up for houses that have bigger yards and are closer to the best schools.


We trade up for friends who can open more doors and introduce us to a better crowd.


We trade up for churches that have grander music programs and more mature spiritual leadership.


We trade up for spouses and partners who are less annoying and more tolerant of our own charming eccentricities.


And then one day it dawns on us that we’ve come to believe that happiness is always dependent on what we currently don’t have.  It’s always just one more trade away. 


Yes, it’s true that sometimes it’s healthy and right to pursue better circumstances. 


But real happiness – more often than not – comes from staying, not going.  Playing the hand we’ve been dealt instead of demanding a new deck.  Staying in a challenging relationship or situation far longer than we ever thought possible.


Happiness comes when we say, “God, help me receive your gift of contentment where I am already am.  Even if my circumstances never change, remind me that You are all I have ever needed.” 


And if we learn to live with such resolve?


Let’s just say that would be a major league home run.  



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