We’re finally getting settled into Hautvillers, our little French village. It’s a far cry from the Paris area where we were but not too far from the city of Reims, where we help out in a church, when we’re not speaking in churches in different places in France.
After we moved here, I found that Hautvillers is sort of famous. The monk that reputedly invented champagne, Dom Perignon, lived here and is buried in the village church. Vineyards climb the steep hillsides all around us, rising up from the Marne river valley and we’re not surprised to hear tourists speak several different languages as we walk through the village.
One day, as I came back from buying my baguette at the bakery, I heard some people speaking English with an American accent. I talked to them and found that they were part of a tour group. They had a question for me.
“What’s it like to live in a village (like this)?” I knew what they were thinking. Narrow streets and old building facades give the town a very picturesque look. Flowers bloom everywhere in the Summer and Fall. They probably thought I lived an Ernest Hemmingway-type of life—sipping espressos on the veranda, while Edith Piaff croons, “La Vie en Rose” in the background.
I suppose I disappointed them, because they seemed to think my life somewhat enviable. “It’s okay.” At the time I was thinking about dealing with our small bedrooms and backing the car way down a narrow, sloped alley to park it for the night. There are pros and cons.
Last weekend, I was at a leadership retreat for our church and I went out for a walk in the country near the retreat center. The temperature was nearly perfect and I was intrigued as I walked by a herd of cows, lying in the pasture, munching grass.
“Ah, that’s the life,” I thought, regarding my bovine buddies who were regarding me back suspiciously. “Nothing to do but lie in the sunshine eating. No bills, no particular problems. The afternoon you just get up and waddle over to a tree, where you burp up what you chewed that morning and finish the job.”
But later I had a slight twinge as I reflected on my attitude. “David, are you envying a cow?” When you put it like that, it doesn’t seem so smart does it? I was worse than those tourist who thought I must be Ernest Hemmingway.
“If you really think their life is so great, all you have to do is crawl over the fence, lay down next them and chomp a little grass yourself. No one is stopping you.”
And, to be honest, this cow business probably isn’t so much fun when it gets cold, or the farmer decides that it’s time for you to head to market to be sold, killed, processed and drowned in mayonnaise in some kid’s Big Mac.
On second thought, I think I’ll pass.
The other fellow’s life often seems better, but if you really knew … We human beings have a tendency to make the worst of most any situation. A fellow can live in a mansion and drive a Porsche and still suffer depression because of his “difficult life.”
I think the Lord wants us to learn to be happy in Him. That way, if we’re in an old village, or camping out in a pasture, or in a prison, or in a palace, we can know joy. Paul wrote from a seedy prison cell,
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4, NIV).
How do you rejoice in the Lord? Take your eyes off your circumstances for a moment, whether they are good or bad and begin to think about what the Lord has done for you. “Practice His presence,” as one fellow described it.
Sing! Your singing might not make you neighbor rejoice, but who cares? Sing to the Lord. He thinks it’s nice, and like an adoring parent listens to their child squeaking away on a new violin, He comes close just to hear you.
Refuse to let depression or the “blahs” suck you into the pit of gray that struggles to sap all the joy out of your days. “Rejoice!” You know who is the subject of that command? You! “You rejoice!”
Trading places with a cow won’t improve your life. Neither will envying that pastor who lives in a French village—he’s probably wishing he could see his above-average-in-every-way grandchildren who are thousands of miles away.
There, where you are, rejoice in the Lord and live the life that God has planned for you to the fullest.