Don’t let the title of this post fool you – i’m not here to tell you how to be content or why you should be. Actually, i’m here to tell you my own story of how i thought i’d figured out how contentment worked and how wrong i soon discovered myself to be.
i’ve always struggled with people who love to travel. i really, really don’t understand it – i think home is pretty dang exciting myself. In fact, the less stimuli i have, the better. i think it’s because i am a thinker and a slow one at that – i do not process information (especially new information) very quickly and i find myself terribly overwhelmed by it most of the time. (that concession has killed a portion of my pride, i’ll admit.) so for me, the goal is to reduce the number of stimuli, of events, of responsibilities and obligations and ultimately options – to where i don’t have to make a bunch of decisions and calculate a lot of opportunity cost. That’s the dream. This morning, where i cracked open a book and poured a cup of coffee because i had nowhere i had to be and nothing i had to do, was a dream. i proceeded to take my dear, sweet time in the bible and in my journal and writing this post, because i am unencumbered by obligation.
Oh, right, i was talking about travel. Really, i never understood it. But i’m dating someone who loves to travel and i think it’s teaching me something about the human condition and contentment. i’ve come to learn – in large part from her – that what is exhausting for one person is life-giving for another. Stillness can drive her insane. Traveling and filling the social agenda are (or become) draining to me. i’ve also learned – thanks to her – how darn good i am at making excuses for the way i feel.
Usually, the excuse comes down to this: “i know that thing X (something i wanted to happen) happened, but it didn’t happen in way Y (the way I wanted it to happen.)”
The other day, i was in the car with a few good friends and we were talking about marriage and relationships and i made the point that everyone in our generation seems to be waiting for the perfect life and therefore the perfect partner that fits their life. For example, if i waited around for someone who didn’t love to travel and only wanted to stay home all of the time, i’d be pushing back the process of dating (also, literally every woman i’ve ever dated has liked/loved traveling and i’m beginning to think it’s a uniquely or at least heavily female characteristic, but DM me about it if you feel otherwise.) but i also realized, as the statement was coming out of my mouth, that i was doing the exact same thing, just in the opposite way. i was judging people who strike me as discontent, even though i too have my own preconceived ideas about the ideal way that life will go.
You can ask my girlfriend – i am really hard to please, and that’s a disappointing realization to make, given that i like to think of myself as easy-going. And in some ways, i really, really am – it doesn’t take much to make me happy (because much is not what i want) but that’s also the problem – too much makes me unhappy. Too much happening, too much planned, too much talked about (or too much of the thing i’m not interested in) and i start to get stressed and frustrated.
Consequently, it’s come to my attention that i’m guilty of the “perfect life” thing in a different way – i used to think that my goal in life was simply to have a job that i don’t hate and that pays the bills, and to be around people that i really like. But it’s not even that simple – i currently work two part-time jobs and i like the both of them, but don’t like the income situation, and i like the one because it’s good people and a great, flexible work environment and i’d want to go full-time there because it’d be a whole lot of fun; but i like the other job because even though it’s a little over-structured and it doesn’t allow you to work ahead at all, it’s with a great group of people and the wages are much better for the type of life that i think i’ll ultimately want with and for my family, which ideally i’ll have before long.
And then, of course, my mind goes to the thought that i’d probably be perfectly happy with my work situation if i were single and not considering marriage, because i’d have nobody to please but myself. But do i want that? Ayla is my best friend on the planet and we’ve been dating for eleven months and honestly, the thought of a life without her is not a fun one.
All of this consideration has led me to a singular conclusion (with probably a hundred other thoughts not expressed because they move too quickly for me to capture them) – the choice of contentment (and it is a choice) is not an easy one. It’s not simple. Contentment feels like constant calculation of opportunity cost. It means choosing to be content even though _____. Even though that trip didn’t happen. Even though i didn’t get to stay as long as i wanted to. Even though I would rather have stayed home. Even though I didn’t get enough sleep. Even though i would rather have done it differently. i don’t think contentment is a one-time deal. i think it is a discipline, a discipline actually a lot like forgiveness. What if contentment is like forgiving a situation for not being as perfect as you want(ed) it to be?
i wonder also the role of patience in contentment. as this week has gone by, i have noticed in an acute manner my tendency to want to push the envelope and make things happen on my timeline, choosing not to trust that what I want to happen will ever happen. This is distinctly human, especially in trying to balance your own happiness with the happiness of others. i believe the central, core issue here – at least from the standpoint of a life with God – is, as previously alluded, trust. Every time i try to rush an issue, every time i choose to respond with discontentment, it is because i want things to happen for me first before i am willing to concede to anything or anyone else.
But – and you’re probably already imagining what’s next – the next thing that happens is that i don’t actually cede control of a situation, even if i have gotten what i want first. My fleshy, human heart treats getting my way the same way it does a can of pringles – i’m just going to keep reaching my hand in there and getting more out until there’s nothing left, and then i’ll feel like crap for only ever getting what i wanted. We’re funny creatures (or at least i am.)
Friends, i could keep writing all day, but i’ll try and wrap it up. Choosing to be content is hard. And the choice looks different for everyone because the sacrifices are different for everyone. What is a joy to me is a sacrifice to someone else, and vice versa. Chalk it up as another reason we need God – we need a mediator to be our common bond. And it’s a good thing that He is the deepest longing of our heart, because all the other stuff we chase is pretty elusive at best, and disappointing when we get it at worst.