My journey, now beginning its ninth month, has been one of extraordinary discovery, mostly of interesting places and wonderful people I have met—the magic of their stories. There is, however, a deeper purpose, which is to discover what makes people feel happy and fulfilled in their daily lives.
Wandering in Pennsylvania eventually will lead most anyone to encounters with Amish people, individuals frequently admired for their tenacity and obedience to a religion that most of us don’t understand, a religion and lifestyle that rejects the progress of technology in favor of a simpler life of human accomplishment and hard work. Amish people experience salvation in their endeavors of everyday living emulating Jesus Christ as he lived, rather than being reborn (the sudden emotional event of being saved.) To the Amish, there is no guarantee of Heaven and the devil exists as surely as the sun rises to challenge humanity’s righteousness.
On a particularly splendid Saturday afternoon of Labor Day weekend I visited an Amish bakery on the rural byways amid farms and fields of corn. At the bakery I had the good fortune of meeting some Amish young people who met my eye and told me true. A young man said Amish are just like everyone else. There are hard workers and not so hard workers. There are sinners and those who make a huge effort to avoid sin. Their dedication is not easy but it helps enormously to be born into the Amish life.
I asked the “30 Somethings,”
“What is the secret of happiness?”
A young woman stepped forward with great conviction,
“CONTENTMENT,” she replied.
Everyone smiled and nodded with agreement. Contentment. Simple enough, I suppose.
“How does one find contentment?” I asked. “Who among you might explain contentment to me from an Amish point of view?”
They all smiled and laughed saying they surely knew one such person: Ephraim.
“Tell me, where might I find this man?” I asked.
Directions were given. Who may I say sent me, I asked?
And they agreed on the name of someone not in the group, laughing even
All right says I. Following their instructions I would go to Ephraim’s home and ask him about contentment. So after the Sabbath and the Labor Day holiday, I drove out to the man’s home and sawmill. His wife was in the yard gardening, his horses were whinnying, and his dog was barking a warning as I approached on foot from the mill yard. I greeted the dog, reading the situation as passive since the lady made no effort to contain it.
Ephraim’s wife, a slight but sturdy looking woman, was ever so kind and polite. I introduced myself and told her my bakery story. She laughed out loud and said I must have been speaking with their married daughter! She explained that her husband and sons were off helping out on a project but would return by four or four-thirty that afternoon.
Surely, she said, her husband would enjoy speaking with me. Thanking her and confirming that I would return by four, I was off on another quest. I returned promptly at four and stood by up the way at the sawmill waiting on Ephraim’s return. His sons came first, being driven in a car by someone who likely wasn’t Amish. Later another car arrived at their doorstep and Ephraim exited into the house as the other man drove off in an older, but well-maintained mini-van. I waited a bit, giving him time to catch his breath and hear the story of the stranger stopped by. Then I walked down to the house and rapped lightly on the screen door. Ephraim emerged with an impish sort of look, a smile, quick to get this matter on the table.
“What’s this all about?” He asked.
His front porch was open and comfortable and he sat down, offering me a seat as well. I told him who I am, what I am doing, and what I hoped to learn from him. He studied me for a quiet moment then asked with a slight note of impertinence,
“What is your question?”
I gulped in some surprise and asked,
“How do you find contentment?”
He smiled again with his impish grin and replied, “You cannot find it without God. You must believe in Jesus Christ and the Commandments. Otherwise it will be very hard if possible at all.”
“What about the people who don’t know about Jesus Christ. People from distant lands who are not enlightened,” I asked.
“I cannot speak for them,” he said. “I don’t have an answer to that perplexing question.
“Amish people believe in accountability,” he said. “Each man is accountable to his ancestors and to his descendents. We live a life of accountability. We work hard each day enjoying the grandness of life, in His path, and we believe in God’s will. If we do our best, then what happens day to day will be God’s will and we accept that.”
Our conversation went on for a long while. We spoke of the ills and blessings of life around the world, his strength of character evident to me, his great belief in the Amish way, his sincerity and his sense of humor combined to enlighten me. His wife served me a cold drink of water and sat nearby, offering a reassuring comment from time to time. I was honored by their invitation to visit the local Amish school the next day and speak with the teachers and children. Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me that opportunity but I will surely take them up on it another time.
So…the Amish way of finding contentment is accepting the circumstances of our lives; accepting that hard work, accountability, and the will of God will lead us to contentment. Thank you Ephraim.