Contented discontent

We all have two lives.
The second one begins when you
realize you only have one.
— Confucius

Even if the rain won't stop
Even when I'm falling down, down, down
I'll hold my head up high
Drink the rain and learn to fly away
Lauren Black — "Drink The Rain"

The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be
Switchfoot — "Dare You To Move"

It's fitting on this Thanksgiving Day that God has been hitting me hard on two things.

The first, as I've mentioned in the past is that I am continually being reminded that every day that you wake up and they're not throwing dirt on your chest is a good day. Every one is a gift from God and an opportunity to do the two most important things we can do: love Him and love others. As a huge introvert and one whose spiritual gifts have always been in playing the support roles for those who are out front, I usually prefer to stay behind the scenes. And while no one can deny that behind the scenes support work is important and needs to be done, it does make it easy to fade into the background and quietly fade away from being involved at all.

But if I truly believe that life is a gift, then I have to treat it that way. The purpose of a gift is to be opened and enjoyed. The Giver has given it to us for us to partake in fully, not to just tread water and muddle through (John 10:10).

Life is too short to not take advantage of every moment that you can and to seize the moments that are in front of you. "Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered — how fleeting my life is." (Psalm 39:4 NLT) At church, we talk a lot about changing what we care about. I've been trying to change my thought processes and my behavior to be more intentional about looking for opportunities to love on people and not wait until those opportunities stumble into me. And on the more personal side, to stop letting life happen to me and to live it more intentionally. The diem ain't gonna carpe itself, right?

The second area is about contentment. Paul wrote, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:12 NIV) I'm not very good at this. It's so easy for me to gripe and complain when things are not going my way. Or when I'm tired of dealing with my circumstances. Or when I'm just tired. Or... or... or... Let's face it. We — all of us — complain a lot. But here was Paul, writing from prison in Rome, saying that he was content whatever his circumstances. And even more, it beautifully sets the stage for the next verse where he says, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13 NIV) We often use that verse to talk about getting through situations or overcoming challenges. But once you have the context of the previous verse — or actually verses, going back and starting at 4:10 — you can see that it's more than that. Paul is saying that his joy, his strength, and his contentment were based in Christ who is more than sufficient for him.

I know this is true but it's very hard to really internalize it — to live it out in practice. When I'm sick and tired of my job and I don't see why so and so can't make that thing do that thing that it's supposed to do but isn't, Christ is sufficient. When I'm feeling beat down because things always seem to work out great for someone else but not for me, Christ is sufficient. When I'm feeling lonely and longing deep down for companionship, Christ is sufficient.

Christ. Is. Sufficient. He is more than sufficient, more than enough, and more than I could ever dream or ever deserve.

I've long since bought into the notion that happiness is a choice but, although related, I don't seem be able to extend that same idea to contentment. I don't know why. Maybe because when I choose to be happy, I feel happy. But if I choose to be content, I don't feel content. Maybe I don't really know what true contentment feels like to begin with. I don't know. As you can see, I'm still trying to get a handle on this.

I do know this, however. I need to be content. And I can't do that on my own. I must draw on that strength that Paul talks about that only comes from God through Jesus. I am so amazingly blessed and I try to keep that in focus but I'm not always successful. When work is so frustrating, I am still grateful that I have a decent, secure job. When I'm feeling an economic pinch, I'm grateful that I am better off than the vast majority of the world's population, some of whom don't even have clean water to drink. In my singleness, I am grateful that I have good friends and family. But gratitude isn't contentment. It's not that I want more, more, more. I don't. I just haven't found that wondrous relief that comes from those things simply not being an issue. I'm trying to get there.

But at the same time, I can't let that keep me from trying to make things better. We are called to do so in both our own lives and in the world around us. There is a constant tension between acceptance and the need to improve. But that takes action on my part. I don't see much evidence in scripture of God just raining down on passive people who just sat there and waited for whatever scraps He would throw their way. Rather, the Bible is full of examples where God says, "I'll act when you act. If you do this, then I will do that." That can seem to be diametrically opposed to the idea of contentment but I'm starting to get my brain wrapped around this one. In my job, wanting a different situation provides incentive to try to make things better and/or fix the things that cause the frustrations. But if things don't improve, and if there are no other opportunities available, I have to still be OK with staying where God has me and doing my job as best I can. As a single guy, I can want a relationship and can work toward building one, but I have to know that God may have other things in store and that a relationship may not be the road to that end. And I have to be OK with the possibility that I may be on my own the rest of my life and have to trust that God will fill the void in my heart. In all things, I have to embrace that his way is always best even if — or maybe that should be "especially when" — it conflicts with what I think or what I want. His plans are always better than my plans. God isn't going to just show up and shove me in the right direction with a shopping list and a battle plan. (Wouldn't life be so much easier if He did, though???) But I have to be open to His leading and be OK when He shuts a door or nudges me away from my own path. That's the contentment I want to find. I may not enjoy the path I'm on — certainly Paul didn't find pleasure in his imprisonment — but I have to be secure in Him while I'm there.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm thankful for so much. Family, friends, more than enough food and resources to live on, etc. But more than anything, I'm thankful for the love of a great good God who is way more than enough for all of my need and my wants. As in most things, though, I need to get out of my own way long enough to really dive into that love.