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.
Because, contentment starts and ends with God.
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