I’m not accustomed to drought, but in California the “wet stuff” hasn’t fallen enough. It’s a record, I believe. The signs are everywhere. Literally. Those annoying electronic construction boards usually reserved for road projects now find themselves positioned in the median of most major highways. Every sign flashes the same words, “Conserve water. Do not water lawn. Fees will apply.”
Though I’m not accustomed to a lack of rain, on another level I’m very much familiar with droughts.
We live in a culture of lack, and the signs are everywhere. Every sign flashes the same words, “You’re not enough. You could do more. Something’s wrong with you.”
For me, the signs are more like voices, loud, consistent, authoritative voices. In the morning, the voices whisper, “You didn’t get enough sleep. You didn’t spend enough time with your wife last night.” As I shut it down in the afternoon, the voices say, “You could have accomplished more at work today.” At home, the voices say, “You don’t have what it takes to be a great parent or husband.”
I’m not the only one who struggles with drought, I’m afraid. As a pastor for five years, I listened to more than a few people share stories of shame and bitterness, regret and self-loathing, anxiety and depression.
Let’s be honest, most of us need the floodgates of contentment and peace to open and give our drought-ridden hearts some relief.
There’s good news, I believe. God loves contentment and never struggles with lack. Contentment is absolutely attainable, in other words.
The path isn’t easy. Discontentment is a long-used blueprint for Satan. You could argue it is the original sin. In the garden, God gives Adam and Eve everything, except one tree. Rather than resting in what they have (eternal communion with God and creation), Satan comes along, and instead they focus on the one thing they lack. What I’m trying to say is Satan knows the power of lack.
But God never lacks, and Love is more powerful than evil. So, let’s start here, by believing contentment is more than possible. It’s inevitable for those who choose to walk its path.
Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of the post, let’s gives contentment some flesh and bones. Because lack and “never enough” are associated with discontentment, it’s logical to assume abundance and contentment are runnin’ buddies. Not so much.
“Abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin,”
says Brene Brown.
“The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance…the opposite of scarcity is enough, or…Wholeheartedness.”
Her book Daring Greatly is enlightening and transformative. Pick it up.
Contentment is a steady assurance that who you are right now is enough. It is courageous, brave, and almost always vulnerable. Contentment is an active pursuit of worthiness and meaning. Contentment chooses love over fear, hope over despair.
That’s contentment in a big, broad nutshell.
So, practically speaking, how do we push back against a culture of lack and “never enough”? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Trade in perfectionism for good enough.
If excellence is a medication, perfectionism is the unhealthy use of the medication. Perfectionism is addiction to excellence, refusing to let good enough be good enough. Perfectionists believe one more hour of work would be enough. They say things like, “If my spouse changed this, we would get along much better.” But if and when the change comes, the relational friction doesn’t.
Perfectionism says, “If you’re perfect, you can avoid the crappy part of life.” Stuff like failure, rejection, and the like. This isn’t true, of course.
Contentment values excellence. But when the work day is over, contentment says work is over. When a friend wants to come over on a whim, contentment doesn’t pee its pants because the house looks like a war zone. Contentment says do the best you can. After that, good enough is good enough.
2. Find a community, and share your life with them.
I’m an American. Individualism is wired into my being. I want to believe I’m okay. Whatever happens, I can get through it fine on my own, thank you.
But contentment, like most eternal virtues, finds life in community. If you’re a Christian, this shouldn’t be breaking news, but humans are wired for connection. If you’re involved in a life-giving community, you know this is right.
Seasons when I’m closest to God and prioritize what matters, I’m plugged into community. For me, this community flows from my church. It’s a small collection of folks who know one another on a heart level. It’s a place where walls aren’t allowed and vulnerability is the air we breathe.
Don’t expect to find contentment as a lone ranger. No man is an island.
3. Stop grasping for control of the things you can’t control.
This week, a young man at my alma mater was shot and killed. He was involved in a robbery gone bad, apparently. My sister-in-law knew this guy, even dated him a few times. He was smart. His future was bright. But with one click, the light was extinguished.
As a father of two boys, stories like this bring a flood of emotions. I can’t imagine how any parent copes with such a tragedy. I’m suddenly reminded how fragile this life is. What if this happened to my boys?
Whether you’re a parent or not, you must accept that some things are beyond your control. There was nothing this young man’s parents could have done to prevent their son’s death. Nothing. Something senseless could happen to anyone in my family at any moment as well.
Discontentment, however, wants you to believe you can control life. Discontentment wants you to live in fear and swim in a sea of “what if” scenarios.
To find contentment, you must accept what ancient philosophers call the “tragic sense of life.” Life is a wild bull you will never tame. Spend your time and energy enjoying the moment you have with the people you love doing work that gives you meaning.
4. Practice gratitude every day. Shoot, do it every hour.
Brene Brown says, “If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.”
Gratitude is about perspective as much as action.
Gratitude focuses on what it has, not what it lacks. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t come natural. For some strange reason, we prefer to focus on what’s missing, what we fear, whose to blame, etc. Neuroscience has now proven that negative thoughts stick to our nerves like Velcro while positive thinking and gratitude slide off those same nerves like Teflon. Unless you focus on something positive for at least 15 seconds, the positive thought won’t stick.
Practically, for me, this looks like taking 5–10 minutes every morning to write down the things I’m thankful for. It’s a daily reminder of what I have. Maybe this works for you, maybe not. But find something that does, some way to focus on what you have.
Your contentment depends on it.
5. Stop the negative self-talk.
Negative self-talk is a popular defense strategy against shame, failure, and weakness. It’s also an impenetrable wall between you and contentment.
Self-defeating, “You suck” thoughts flooded my mind for years. I was my own worst critic. More than that, I was my own worst enemy. Here’s the reality. I don’t suck. Neither do you. You’re not awful. Your mistakes don’t define you.
Don’t avoid reality. If you mess up, for instance, admit it and apologize. Learn from it, and move on.
This is the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt focuses on the results of your actions. Shame focuses on the identity of the person committing the actions.
If you’re a Christian, I believe your picture of God shapes your level of negativity self-talk. If God is an angry old man, waiting to whack you with his cane when you mess up, shame will plague you. If, however, you believe God loves you, that He is for you, the old man with a cane becomes a loving father with an outstretched hand.
6. Protect your integrity with clearly-defined boundaries.
Contentment asks you to listen to your heart, not the demands around you. People with clear boundaries, who know themselves well, would never choose people-pleasing or a fun time over their values. Content people are okay with saying “No.”
Unfortunately, I believe too much discontentment, even in Christian culture, results from people who sacrifice their integrity to feel needed.
Your integrity matters. It’s fertilizer to the seed of contentment. Protect yours.
The road to contentment isn’t easy, but the reward is more than worth the struggle. If your heart is dry from “never enough” thinking, I hope and pray these practical tips sprinkle some contentment on your life.