Finding Contentment

Contentment is a fickle thing. It is something we seem to seek after but rarely attain. How many people do you know regularly say, “I’m just content. Content with my life in all areas.” It’s pretty rare to hear.

It’s the old carrot and stick routine, dangling out in front of our faces, always just out of our grasp. But, wouldn’t life be great if we were content?

I just finished reading Genesis, a favourite of mine. It always strikes me that, from chapter 37 onwards, Joseph dominates the story. He’s a chapter hog in Genesis (classic younger sibling, always seeking attention).

Adam and Eve get three chapters.
Noah gets four chapters.
The Tower of Babel get’s one.

Those are all important events but none get as much press as the ongoing saga of Joseph.

As I was reading yesterday, I was struck, the whole Joseph saga started with jealousy. None of Genesis 37-50 would have happened if Joseph’s brothers hadn’t been jealous. That’s how it all started. Jealousy.

Because of jealousy Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers.
That triggered him going to Egypt, being put in prison and having the whole dream saga.
Those dreams triggered him getting recognised by Pharaoh.
Because of that, he got a pretty powerful role which led to the rescue of Egypt and the Israelites from famine.
Which led to the whole slavery thing.

I’ve always overlooked that it all started with jealousy. This unseen emotion, when acted upon, triggered a whole sequence of events that resulted in a nation in slavery.

Jealousy is a heart attitude that just simmers and stews. Eventually it can shape our actions in ways we can hardly identify. How often are we sitting in a mess and wondering, how the hell did I get here?!

I wonder how many of those situations actually started with jealousy.

God has been driving a nail into my own jealousy and envy for years. I want to be content. Truly, though, how can I get there if I’m not brutally honest about what prevents me from getting there?

The big lie is that if only I could obtain that object of desire (a material possession, a type of marriage, a person, or children or gifting or talent) then I could be content.

This makes my contentment about just obtaining enough of _________.

If only I could only have a certain home. If only I looked a certain way. If only I had a personality like that. If only.

A chase ensues.

If only my circumstances were better. When this financial season of hardship passes. When the stress at work subsides. Circumstances never seem to line up to our bidding though. But we can always buy more stuff!

If only I had that certain car and nicer clothes. Getting that certain car becomes getting the house with the bigger yard. Then we realise material possessions don’t satisfy, life is about relationships!

If only my kids behaved in that certain way. If only our spouse would become like that certain person. But changing and manipulating others also doesn’t satisfy so we work on ourselves first. Isn’t that what Oprah taught us to do?

If only I could look like that certain person (cue the Juice Fast and fresh commitment to Paleo). If only I could conquer that certain issue (2015 IS THE YEAR. I’M DOING IT. SERIOUSLY. THIS YEAR! I’M MAKING THE CHANGES! OK, 2016 will do also. Whatever. Cue guilt and self-loathing.)

The reality? Chasing the desire is an illusion. The reality is our “if only” has become an idol. The idol will do what idols always do, enslave us to a lifetime of hard labour with no end in sight.

Contentment cannot be achieved through attainment or abandonment.

Finding contentment through attainment is simply consumerism.

Finding contentment through abandonment (of desire for anything) is humanistic Buddhism. That is, we selfishly try to destroy our desire for anything because all of life is just an illusion… this is not the Gospel my friends.

The Apostle Paul speaks of being content no matter what the circumstance or situation.

Why?

Because, contentment starts and ends with God.

How?

Jesus satisfies our deepest longings. We no longer try to find contentment in things or people that can’t truly satisfy. We no longer try to satisfy our longing for meaning through a job. We no longer try to satisfy our deepest longings for identity through people’s approval of us.

Jesus gives us new desires shaped according to both his humility (I don’t need or deserve everything) and his goodness (The Father is able and willing to give good things to His children).

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be both generous (re-shaping of our hearts from consumers to generous givers) and content in all circumstances.

I’m happy to say that I’ve seen God work in deep ways in my heart. I recognise quickly how my envy and jealousy will just lead me deeper into slavery instead of contentment and joy. I lean on him more willingly. This is encouraging to me when envy knocks on the door of my heart.

What about you?
Do you struggle with envy and jealousy?
In what ways does God want to journey with you towards contentment and peace?

Photo Credit: Evan P. Cordes

Anger, healing and swearing at God.

It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle and I had just finished an early morning shift at a coffee shop (4:30 a.m start time!). I was walking up the path to my apartment, thinking about nothing in particular except for perhaps a nap. Suddenly, I felt a stark and very direct question enter in to my mind. It was not a whisper from God. More like a shouted, “Hey, wake up, I’ve got a question for you!” sort of moment.

“What do you really think of ________?”.

I’m leaving out a name at the end of that sentence. It’s not important. What is important is this was someone who had hurt me. Hurt me more deeply than I thought possible. Hurt me in ways that I would still be dealing with many, many years later. But, I was being a good Christian about it. Quickly worded forgiveness, turning the other cheek, responding with “I’m ok, you’re ok” niceties.

But then this moment, with this question, came along.

I wasn’t thinking about this person or that situation so my guard was down. God knew that it would be. Before I could remember my normal script of “I forgive and release him! I pray God’s best for him!” an answer welled up within me and exploded into my heart and mind.

“He’s a f*&$#ing a$%hole!!!!!”

The magnitude of the anger startled and scared me. Up until that moment I had never entertained even a hint of that sentiment towards him. Everything was nicely packaged and under control. My ability to keep things under control can be a real curse I’ve come to learn.

I went up into my apartment and sat on my couch and just stared. What had just happened? Why had I just turned in to an angry woman with the mouth of a sailor?

And so on that summer day and in that way, my journey toward healing finally began. And it started with anger.

Anger is a funny thing. We know anger can be “righteous” or “unrighteous”. We interpret righteous anger as anger that is socially acceptable. Anger where we keep our voices down, say, “I’m really angry and I mean it!”, pray a prayer and then quickly move on.

A few months after my sailor outbursts I studied the book of Nahum in the Bible. Nahum can be a confusing book but one thing is not confusing, God is really, really angry.

Historically, one nation was viciously abusing Israel. God looked at his daughter, and could not just sit, watching the abuse. He could not calmly say, “Well, that’s just not nice. Come on everybody, let’s get along!”. No, his fatherly love demanded anger.

With that picture, I finally understood that God cared, he wept, he grieved. I understood that He is angered when his people are hurt, abused, betrayed and broken. God’s anger validates that the wound truly exists and that it truly is painful.

Anger is one of the most healing emotions because anger says, “This is not ok, I am not ok.”

What happened to me is soul crushing and the reason why is… I am more valuable than that.

The absence of anger is the choice to remain unaffected by sin.

The absence of anger is to agree that the wound and the wounded are of no significance. Not worthy of getting all worked up over.

The presence of anger is the acknowledgment of the depth of the wound and the deep value of the one wounded.

I have many, many students who deal with deep wounds from their parents. They all try so hard to not be angry, the very thing they should feel. For years they seek to “honour their father and mother”. By honour they mean, deny the hurt and remain unaffected by it.

When I tell them it is ok to be angry many instantly just begin weeping. They are acknowledging for the first time that their father or mother hurt them. Acknowledging their own deep wounds and thereby confirming that were not treated in accordance with their true value.

It is so painful to watch as they sob deeply but I know how healing it is to acknowledge their own value for the first time in their lives. They are finally absorbing the truth. Righteous anger screams out, “I was not treated in accordance to my value!!”

As I watched the angry racial events in Missouri and across America unfold, all I could think is, “I’ve felt that. I’ve felt exactly that”. I haven’t experienced the same thing as African-Americans have, but I know the anger that bursts out of it’s walls, suddenly, screaming with hot emotion, “I’m. Worth. More!!”

Many of us sit for years, pain after pain piling up until one final pain touches on them all and God loudly speaks that question, “How do you really feel about_______?”

If we obsess over answering with the right tone of voice and carefully chosen words, we miss the point entirely. If I focused on my swearing and boiling anger I’ve missed the point entirely. If we obsess on the few acts of violent protest in Missouri we’ve missed the point entirely.

Anger acknowledges value. Anger acknowledges worth. Anger sometimes comes rushing forth for healing to come pouring in.

Are there areas in your life that you’ve never allowed yourself to be angry over?

What value, freedom and healing are you then missing?

Photo Credit: Andrew McCluskey

Dear Church, Give me Jesus.

I love the local church. Any one who is part of a local church has to love it (although the converse isn’t always true). There is no other choice in my mind. It is so imperfect and so messy that only love would ever keep us there.

By: John Bugg

I was raised a Pastors’ kids. When I say, “I grew up in church”, I mean it in the most literal of ways. I literally grew up in church. I slept under pews for my naps and ran wild through the building playing hide ‘n seek after school while my Dad finished up counselling sessions.

My history with church has been messy to say the least. I’ve seen the best and the worst. When people hear my story the response is always, “and you still go to church?! How is that possible?” Well, I’m not sure but I suppose only love could keep me there. (Ok, or stupidity but I like to think love.)

As I’ve gone from my childhood, through my teens, survived my twenties and am now finishing up my thirties. I’ve reached a place of both gratitude and honest acceptance of the realities of this dysfunctional and messy thing called church.

Sometimes I think I accept the dysfunction of the church to easily. Other times I think I need more grace than I have. I have a lot of opinions about how things could be done on Sundays and the rest of the week. I mostly keep them to myself.

The past few years, though, one cry has been rising up within me that makes all others fade.

It is this: Church, give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Show me who He is.
Enlarge my vision beyond what I know.
Shine all your lights on the breathtaking beauty of this divine man.
Help me to to go from seeing mere shadows of Him to being blinded by his grace.
Bring me down to the dusty roads he walked in the most normal of ways.
Help me to reach out to touch him, hear him and know Him.
Start with Jesus and end with Jesus.
Simply, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, simply.

A while back I was at a Christmas service and we began to sing songs as is done in church. Three songs in we had not once mentioned His precious name. Not once did we remind ourselves of who he was and is and will always be.

We sung of our great need. We sung of our determination to serve the whole world. We sung of our desire to be radical in our faith.

Church, I need Jesus.

When the church is at it’s best, Jesus is most clearly seen. When we are at our worst, Jesus is but a mere shadow. He is the clear picture of an invisible God. Show me that clear picture. I’m desperate for it. Don’t leave me desperate. Show me how it could possibly be true that my deepest longings could be satisfied in knowing a Jewish carpenter.

That’s my cry. That’s my longing. Give me Jesus.