A lot of our discontentment comes from fretting about whether we’re doing what we ought to be doing and whether we are where we’re supposed to be in life.
I remember my mom saying long ago that when she and my dad were young, he could never decide whether he was really obeying God’s will.
If he was teaching school, he’d start thinking he should be pastoring a church instead. So he’d take a church job.
Then it wouldn’t be long before he’d decide God meant for him to teach after all.
So he’d go back to the schoolroom.
And then he’d return to preaching.
I remember at least one stint during my childhood when Dad taught school and led a congregation simultaneously. He was trying to cover both bases, I guess.
Eventually he got over this internal struggle, and in his middle and latter years he seemed largely at peace, at least by his earlier standards.
In Dad’s case, a lot of his youthful indecision and fidgeting sprang, I think, from his legalistic religious upbringing.
He’d been taught that God had a specific and perfect plan for each Christian’s life, but it was up to that person to a) figure out what God wanted, then, b) yield to God’s plan, which might entail doing something entirely unpleasant — taking up and bearing your cross, as it were.
And woe unto you if you got it wrong, for verily the Lord was both willing and eager to divinely stomp the bejabbers out of you.
I’ve met a lot of people — some religious like my dad, some less religious, some not religious at all — who suffer from variations of his syndrome.
Their struggles may or may not involve God’s will, but they’re never sure they’ve found their niche in the world.
If they’re selling tires, they think they should have gone into retail management. If they’re working in a city, they believe they’d be much happier eking out a living in some remote mountaintop commune. If they’re married to their high school sweetheart, they worry they should have gone on to college and met someone better there.
Happiness is always somewhere else. Or at least they fear that’s so. They feel they’re missing out on something: The Lord’s will. Success. Joy. Fulfillment.
For what it’s worth, I’ve long tried to discipline myself to take another approach.
Not that I always, or even mostly, succeed. But I try to mindfully practice being content wherever I am. Life’s much easier when I’m able to maintain that state of mind.
Granted, my approach is based on my own variety of the Christianity. If you’re not a person of faith, it might not help you. But consider it, anyway, just in case.
Here are some points I try to keep present before me:
▪ God lives inside me, so wherever I am, the Lord is present, too. He goes to the same job I go to or lives in the same leaky house I live in. Together, he and I can conquer anything.
▪ God’s not out to punish me for honest mistakes. He’s always out to bless me, because that’s what he does and who he is. So even if I get it wrong, that’s OK.
▪ Possibly I am where I am because the Lord sees fit — for reasons all his own — to have me there. If my job drives me crazy, maybe I should stop obsessing on its negative points and start asking the Lord what he wants to accomplish through me. Is there someone else there who’s suffering that I can help? Am I learning patience? Am I learning perseverance? What can I do to be a blessing to my bosses?
▪ Anytime the Lord wants to move me out of my situation, he can make a way for me in about 10 seconds. If no doors are opening, I’m probably where I should be. Maybe this is my calling. If so, I should embrace it.
▪ Temporal success is relative. If, say, I’m not satisfied making the wages I earn now, I wouldn’t be content if I made twice as much. My dissatisfaction with such matters tends to result from comparing myself to others. Even if I made $500,000 a year, I’d just start noticing all the lucky so-and-sos who make $1 million.
▪ Temporal success is overrated. No matter how big your house, how attractive your spouse, how fast your car, how lofty your job title, in very short order you get used to it. It becomes your norm. It doesn’t excite you the way it once did. If those are the things I’m depending on, I’ll always feel disgruntled.
▪ I can simply decide to be happy where I am, with what I have. Contentment is what the whole world is seeking. But as much as not, it’s a choice.
▪ One caveat: There are certain limits to all ideals. If you’re being abused and are in danger, or if you’re being pressured to break the law — flee. Don’t be content there. Don’t wait for a sign from heaven. You’ve got your sign. It’s saying, “Get out.”
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.