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

The Good ‘ol Days Are Ahead of Us

I’m not one to pick on old people (hi Dad!) but I’ve been noticing a common refrain coming out of the 60 and older crowd (There, that’s my marker for old… old ain’t bad but it is… old).

It goes something like this,

“Things sure have changed. Back in my day, life was simpler. Back in my day, there was a right and wrong and we all knew the difference. The way this world is going… it makes me shudder.”

Lest I pick on the all you old ones, I see my generation grabbing this outlook and running with it. Where do we get this? Overly rosy history books? Stories from our grandparents about the “good ‘ol days?”. Perhaps it is the constant news telling us that marriage is in ruins, young people just want to smoke weed and play video games and terrorists are hiding in bushes.

good-days

By: Vic

The contrast to the present world circumstances is the shiny and rosy past.  Things were just better back then. The present, however, is dark and out of control. The future, we only speak of in whispers because it is unthinkably bad.

Fear grips us. Pessimism reigns supreme. Exasperated sighs can be heard across the land. What are we to do when the present is bad and the future is fear-inducing?

If you find yourself in that place, here’s a few thoughts to consider:

The past wasn’t so rosy.

I was recently in the United States for an extended visit. People were constantly warning me of how far America has fallen. I heard comments along these lines often.

I bit my tongue but wanted to say,

“Were those good ‘ol days when Rosa Parks couldn’t sit in the front of the bus because she was black? Was it when children worked in factories or when women couldn’t vote? Perhaps it was when we bought and sold slaves? When, precisely, were the good ‘ol days?”

My heart was not be snarky… but truly, we idealise the past. Let us remind ourselves that the past was not as rosy as we want to believe. Every single generation has had it’s challenges and mountains to climb. Every generation. Our current generation is no different.

In fact, if you read your history books (including the Bible) you will see that often, the past was much, much worse than how events are unfolding today. This perspective should re-assure us that our situation is not unique.

The fear can be real.

Even with this reminder, the fear can be real. The challenges can be intimidating. It’s ok to acknowledge that.

I think to be more accurate, though, I should say “I’m intimidated by the challenges today”. That is more in line with reality and empowering. I can’t change the situations but I can grow in my peace and trust in God. This gives hope and joy in the midst of trials.

We should not claim that, “I have a right to be trapped by fear because these world events are unprecedented!”. It is both a false statement and a dis-empowering one. My life and future is not controlled by circumstances “out there”. The reality is that God is sovereign and he can work in my life for peace and goodness. God can give us the wisdom to face our mountains.

The only response is light.

Today has challenges and so will tomorrow. What is our response?  All the more to trust God, continue to flourish, and stand against it by living lives that plan for a hope filled future. We should not stop having children (a very real consideration of many). We should not stop reaching out. We should not stop building towards the future.

Jesus revealed to us that the only way for darkness to flourish is the absence of light. As for me and my family, when we see darkness, I want our first response to be… let’s light a match! Not, it’s never been darker, run for the hills!

Hey, old people, help us out!

To those who are older and wiser: you do damage when you constantly paint the past as some utopia of flowers and daisies. Past generations, you got some things very right. Well done and thank you! You also faced challenges and often didn’t respond well. This isn’t being negative, this is actually being encouraging.

We need your stories of success and failure. It does not give us hope to hear that you had it all figured out and we are stuck with a society falling apart for the first time. It’s not true anyways, right? (see above for confirmation of this). Doesn’t scripture show us to not shrink back from telling both the victories and failures personally and corporately?

Here is what you can say,

“These days we are facing a lot of challenges. But, you know what? My generation faced a lot of challenges too. God has the wisdom and strength for you to lead us forward.”

Say that. Or something like it. Just please don’t say, “I long for the good ‘ol days when everything was perfect… too bad for you and those like you that messed it all up.” Definitely don’t say that.

What about you? Are you scared of the current state of the world? How could your perspective shift?