Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ever Elusive Contentment, Blog Day #2

Picture this: you're an 11 year old girl working in 100 degree weather in an inhumane chicken house gathering hundreds of eggs. You're wearing your yucky old loafers (which, of course, you've checked for cockroaches and spiders). You've got chicken mites in your hair, dust and sweat all over your skin, and the stench of standing chicken manure in your nostrils.

Then picture this day after day of summer vacation, working alongside parents who are tired, unhappy and conversation-less.

Definitely a picture of discontentment. Or, at least, of unhappiness.

That girl was me. I spent much of my childhood working on my parents' ranch. Each day off was spent taking turns with my sister selling eggs to visiting customers. We rotated days working for 2 or 3 hours in the hot (or freezing cold) afternoon in the conditions described above.

We were paid a little allowance for our efforts. But because the conditions were rough for children and adults alike, not much was said. No words of encouragement, no family vacations, no playdates, and no 4 hugs a day. Dinner, albeit together, was silent. It was just the daily grind of a family with immigrant parents struggling to make a living.

It was the combination of the hard labor, monotonous life, and lack of emotional warmth that made unhappiness and discontentment indistinguishable from each other. Now, as an adult who lives by faith in a God who sacrificed His son for me and relishes in the grace that is lavished upon me, I can clearly define the two:

Unhappiness is when 1) I don't get my way. Or 2) things aren't going my way. Or 3) life is just miserable. But #3 is usually a result of #1 and/or #2.

Discontentment is 1) me being ungrateful. Or 2) me wanting to be satisfied in some way. Or 3) just me wanting to be more important to others than I should be.

Have you noticed a common theme? Me and mine.

So being unhappy as a child was understandable. Everyone in the house was unhappy. Circumstances were tough, and we all wished for something else. I might even go so far as to say that the dreams of the adults had been dashed, causing a cold and lonely atmosphere. I myself was lonely. I knew there was more out there. I wanted my life and family to be like the Cosby's. The Brady's life would have been awesome. The Seaver's house would have been even better.

Always in the gloom of my life, there was something better. Mediocrity was unacceptable. I began striving to always have my way. Getting my way meant that I would have the best I could. I would do what it took to get what I wanted.

So when the innocence of childhood wishes grew into self-centered teen-aged angst, I started my journey into discontentment. Unhappiness turned into the monster of dissatisfaction. I wanted more. . . .more attention, more "normal" experiences, more activities, more talent, more freedom. . .

A pattern, I must say, even in my spiritual maturity, I still follow today. Contentment had become elusive. I had been striving so long to always have more, that I couldn't recognize contentment if it came up and bit me in the rear. In fact, discontentment became one of my default settings.

Then. . .
40 days of no Facebook.
Out of the muddy water of making myself appear impressive.
Not having others' lives to look to and compare myself with.
Replacing the hours spent reading updates and comments with thoughts and words of God. Listening for His small still voice.
Obeying instead of being kicked in the pants.
Soaking in the love that comes from a God who cares enough to discipline me.
Reaping the benefits of my own brokenness.
Receiving all the benefits that come from believing in a Savior who took the punishment for my sins upon Himself.
Pulling from the shroud of grace that consumes me daily.
Using just a little of it to extend a smaller scale of it upon myself and others around me.
Forgiving myself for always looking elsewhere for satisfaction and contentment.
Prayerfully, with intention, redirecting my thoughts to what I have, and not what I don't have.
Understanding that while life is hard, I am deeply blessed.
Discovering that the grass under my feet is lush, soft, and brilliantly verdant.

God had spoken loudly to me during my 40 days of social networking silence. One afternoon, as if a glowing spiritual lightening bug was flying around my head, He said, "See that? Catch it. Hold it. Remember it. It's name is contentment."

Praise the Lord for being so kind to me.


Bronwyn said...

So encouraging: thanks for sharing!

We are the Ganyos.... said...

So I keep thinking that I have commented enough today but then I cant help but respond...
I liked your note about differentiating between happiness and contentment (or their opposites). Sometimes I struggle to keep those lines clear in my mind and at the first sense of unhappiness I think that all contentment is lost.
The contrast of our physical surroundings as children is striking (stinky chicken farm vs. aesthetically immaculate suburbs of south orange county ) yet the outcomes quite the same - loneliness and unhappiness. The psychology of this intrigues me greatly. Maybe I would been this way no matter what, maybe I was predisposed to such discontentment. We all are to some extent anyway. But, I cant help thinking that it was indeed my loneliness as a young girl that fostered dreams, fantasies and desires for so much more than life had since offered. The existence of such dreaming gave way to a habitual vanity - consummation with self and excessive concern with getting what I want. I can so relate to your story. Contentment has always been so elusive in my life as well. Having this experience has always served to remind me that in fact, the truest contentment will only be found on the other side of eternity and my longing for such fulfillment is inevitable.
On a lighter note, you are right that everyday is a party at your house and I am sure your perpetual state of party-hood has brought joy happiness and great fulfillment to your children. Lord, let this lead to a knowledge of deep contentment in you!