“What are y’all doing tonight?” It was a simple question posed by my mother to my sister, who was visiting, and me at the supper table two weekends ago. It had a simple answer, from me at least—working on Sunday School literature. But, before I could give said simple answer, my sister pipes up with a, “She’s going to do the complete opposite of whatever makes her happy.” To explain, she was still a little miffed at me from an earlier conversation in which my reasons for not doing something were less than satisfactory in her eyes. Furthermore, she probably wouldn’t have said it at all had she had any idea how many times it would run through my head over the course of the coming days. Although I was a little miffed at first, especially when my attempt at explaining how untrue that was sounded hollow even to me, I actually really like the fact that she’s never been afraid to be blunt with me. (For the record, working on Sunday School literature makes me very happy. In this particular conversation, though, we had suddenly left the realm of simply talking about what I was doing that night and collided with some much larger issues.)
In the week following said comment, I went a little crazy. By that I mean, I touched my autoharp for the first time in…well, a good long while. (I’d say I played it, but that would probably be stretching the boundaries of the truth.) I devoured a novel in less than a week, a once regular occurrence for me. I reintroduced myself to my poor dog. (Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but you get the picture…) I enjoyed a long walk. I found a few minutes to work on pleasure writing projects. And realizing how much I used to love watching movies and that I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I got to just watch a movie without being knee-deep in some project and only having it on for background noise, I laid on the couch and watched a movie from start to finish. It was wonderful. The experience I mean. The movie wasn’t bad either.
As much as I enjoyed all of that and as much as I realized I want, no, I need more of that in my life (I’m already planning to finally sew again, to make more time for those pleasure writing projects, and to take a day-trip, hiking most likely. We’ll see if that happens.), it was still a pretty terrible week, which irritated me immensely. Here, I had made time to do all these things I had been wanting to do for forever in an effort to disprove my sister’s comment, yet I was still frustrated, very frustrated. It hit me that it was the contentment thing again. I’m pretty sure that’s on the bottom of my list of virtues, if it makes the list at all.
Part of my constant struggle with contentment is I’m really good at knowing what I don’t want. I’m just terrible at knowing what I do want, which is sort of important. Then, on the rare occasions when I know exactly what I want, I have absolutely no idea how to make it happen. And, that’s why I’ll be content for three days, three months, I once made it a year, believe it or not, and then it’s gone. So, it’s this constant chase, this constant struggle to feel content, to not feel like some major area of my life is perpetually out of whack and I can’t fix it. Don’t forget to throw into the struggle a hearty amount of guilt because I know I should be content. I know and am grateful for the fact that I have a pretty wonderful life; it’s not perfect by any means, but I certainly can’t deny I’ve been blessed way beyond what I deserve and have plenty of reasons to be content. I’m just not, or certainly not always.
I have to remind myself regularly that contentment doesn’t just happen. It’s something you learn. (See Philippians 4:10-13). In school, though I always carried too big a load, which meant school consumed too much of my life and I stayed discontent in my existence as a student, I was blessed in the fact that I didn’t usually struggle with the learning part. I could generally pick up a new concept pretty fast. I didn’t have trouble understanding what my teachers/professors were trying to get across. However, that was not the case with calculus. (The good news: most people, myself included, have no use for calculus. No offence to any math fanatics.) It was a very real struggle for me. By that I mean just looking at the problems gave me a headache. I’m discovering that learning contentment is, for me, a lot more like learning calculus than…learning how to analyze literature, for instance.
I wish I could conclude this post by sharing some major breakthrough in my experience of learning contentment…but I can’t. I’m still struggling, still chasing it. (And, I’m starting to hate the calculus analogy because the breakthrough never came in that department…) That said, I truly believe, even if it starts with steps as small as taking time to revisit a hobby that once brought you joy or saying something that needed to be said and no one else was going to say for you when you would normally chomp down hard on your tongue and keep it to yourself, engaging the struggle, continuing to pursue contentment, and seeking God in the learning process is far better than trying to ignore the issue and somehow manage to be content with not being content.
I wrote all of what you just read earlier in the week. I read back over it, decided I wasn’t thrilled with it, and didn’t post it. But, for some strange reason, I didn’t trash it either. This morning, after getting ready for church, I was reading my Bible and came across Hebrews 13:5, which reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” I’d read the verse before plenty of times, but I needed it more today than I guess I ever had. We can be content with what we have not because we suddenly don’t want things we can’t seem to grasp or because our circumstances are never incredibly frustrating, but, rather, we can be content because of Who is always with us. So, I’m still learning, still chasing contentment, and that may very well be a lifelong journey filled with ups and downs for me, but I am grateful and content in knowing God will be with me every step of the way.