Visual Verses #6

“Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?'”

She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”” – 2 Kings 4:13

Usually when we think of proclamations of contentment, Paul or David come to mind, but here we have an equally poignant lesson in the words of the woman from Shunem. Her response to Elisha question about how he can show his gratitude to her is, at first, difficult to understand. What does “I have a home among my own people” even mean? I believe (though I am no scholar) that she is identifying one of her most treasured blessings instead of giving a vague reference to having everything she desires. The woman would probably have been untruthful had she claimed the latter, and she had determined that having more desires met doesn’t have much impact satisfaction.

One surprising thing is that this Shunammite woman was not in a position where it would have been particularly easy to come to such a wise conclusion. The Bible refers to her at the opening of the story as “well-to-do”, and we know that she and her husband had the capacity to provide living quarters for Elisha’s occasional visits. My assumption is that she must have been accustomed to having many of her wishes fulfilled, which is normally a recipe for seeking happiness in comforts and possessions. Yet, the woman appears to have found the greatest joy in her acts of service.

What makes the Shunammite woman’s contentment even more surprising is what she did not have. It is clear from multiple other stories in the Bible that lacking children was something that could cause severe emotional duress. Her omission of her desire for a son was most definitely not out of forgetfulness. The response she gave to Elisha’s promise that she would have a child makes it clear that her childlessness weighed very heavily on her.

Still, she could say with all honesty, “I have a home among my own people.” I think she meant that she had all the means necessary to live her life in the place where she felt she belonged. If we define the place where we belong as the middle of God’s will instead of a physical location, God promises that we will always have what we need to live where we belong.

I know I don’t have any easy time following the Shunammite woman’s example. We live in a culture defined by consumption, and we are constantly being told that we will be happy only when we have what we want. On the other hand, I can easily relate to her gratitude for the place she was able to call home. My house is not big or fancy, but it is filled with my family. Juneau is not the most exciting or convenient place to live, but I’m surrounded by nature and geology that inspire me.

I will try to be more than content. I will try to live a life defined by gratitude.

"Enveloped" - dispersing clouds wrap around a snow covered ridge on Douglas Island