A few weeks ago I wrote a strangely honest blog about things i desire in amongst living the life of my dreams, and after I wrote it I got inundated by people agreeing, that they too had desires that were not being realised and the theme of contentment kept coming up. What is contentment? How do you be content in amongst wanting large and beautiful things for the future?
So this is my first at attempt at a “5 steps” blog, inspired by a conversation had with one of my heros. Here goes.
Jeremy’s 5 steps of contentment or the time i learnt how to murder.
– From a life lived by an occasional naively optimist cynic.
1. learn the alternatives
I am rich. I am comparatively well educated (even tho I hold no university degree). I am privileged and valued and am given daily opportunities to do whatever i want. There is very little that stands in the way of me doing whatever I dream of doing. But, growing up in public servant town Canberra, I could easily be led to believe that I am dumb, less skilled, poor and not attaining the marks of adulthood that a 28 year old should attain I.E – mortgage, full time “job”, set of golf clubs and new shoes.
I’ve sat in dirt with homeless children all around me, forgotten, alone, in a country that believes certain children aren’t worth much. I’ve played soccer with the shoeless, the sick, and the 21 year old in 2nd grade. I own a computer that has pictures of children who have never seen a computer. I have sat holding hands with a leper, shared food with a factory worker in a slum whose only dream was to send his daughter to school and washed lice out of the hair of children who own two sets of clothes. I have never fought in a civil war and I have never had to run from persecution. I am blessed beyond my knowledge, but my knowledge at least says that I am privileged to have been born where i have been born.
And not that my value is higher than these others, and not that they aren’t blessed in other ways, but contentment comes when one can look at their situation and know that they are blessed. Not comparing, but seeing reality. Looking at the world, not just your little town.
2. Know your dreams.
I have done youth ministry in and out of the last ten years and the most common question i ask is along the lines of ‘what do you dream of… what do you want to end up doing… what gives you energy’ and the common answer will always be “I don’t know’ or a derivative of “i hate school”. When one knows what they hate, but not really what they love, a sense of unfulfilled unexcited boredom arrives to take us into the darkness of unhopeful discontent.
When you go on a drive, you usually know where you are going, so you drive towards that end goal. If you don’t know where you are going, or you don’t know how to get there, it is easy to get lost and meander through the country or city streets that slowly get less and less familiar and, although they can be interesting and fun, will get you no closer to your destination outside of a miraculous ‘woah… how did we get here?” moment.
I’m currently learning Swedish. My goal is to know swedish so i can communicate with Swedes in their heart language so i can make more friends when i move to sweden later this year. Learning a language is not instant (i wish) but the end goal keeps me going through the moments of an ipad app telling me i’m wrong and getting the word “have”, mixed up with the word for “are”.
Contentment comes when at the end of the day we can breathe a sigh of relief and know that we are on our way to victory. Content that we have done enough that day.
But this can’t happen if we know not where we are going or why.
3. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do, or, alternatively, celebrate other people telling you what to do.
For a long season of my life i hated authority. I hated people who wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do, especially when i didnt trust them or see any reason for them to have authority in my life. I would agree at face value whilst seething inside, coming up with elaborate ways to rebel or make it so that I was calling the shots, not them.
Rebellion sets one up to fail. Rebellion is not good friends with contentment, because rebellion and uncommitted following is war. A war that you will never win. A war that no one can win because God has placed us in a world with other people. With other people who have done things before you, and others who haven’t done what you have yet.
This is a good thing. Imagine trying to grow up with no other humans. You may never walk or read or speak. Others keep us developing and growing through positive and negative means.
And i found myself in the tension of not wanting to be told what to do, but deep down inside thats all i wanted. i wanted mentorship, i wanted wisdom from trusted older people.
So either, decide to be a hermit and live completely isolated, or get comfy with people telling you want to do, learn how to trust quickly and wisely, and also learn how to say ‘Can we do it this way instead’ confidently and in an honourable manner.
My long time room mate and friend once had us go through a season of not saying anything in the morning until we had been thankful to God for 10 things. Depending on how hungry i was or tired or whatever, these would span from the very basic “thank you for toast… thank you for this pillow” etc or sometimes i would get bored of those and get deeper “thank you for how my parents trained me to… or thank you for how you have created my lungs to work”
Thankfulness takes our focus off our own problems and opens our eyes to the goodness of God.
5. do something every week that freaks you out or is uncomfortable.
Contentment is super charged when we constantly freak ourselves out. I have had a long tradition of wearing unfashionable clothes and getting strange hair cuts, for many different reasons, but one of the main reasons have always been that it freaks people out. I have also spent the last 5 years constantly being put, and putting myself into very strange situations. Most of which freak me out. It keeps one clinging to God, clinging to who you are deep inside ad never lets you get stale.
The most discontent period of my life was when i knew exactly what would happen the next day. Which ended in some pretty self-destructive habits.
Do things that freak you out. Be grateful, Let good people lead you, know your dreams, and know how good life is.