It’s my birthday. I’m not saying that so you buy me a present although obviously all gifts/cards/chocolates/flowers/sports cars/holidays/makeovers would be gratefully received.
This time of year inevitably makes me think about where I’m at, what I’ve got and what I want that I haven’t got. That last list can be a long one. Shinier hair, radiant skin, better clothes, a lighter bike, a bigger bedroom with adequate storage and a laptop that doesn’t go all wheel-of-doom on me every night. This time a year ago, I thought I would be better-read, more networked, grounded and basically a nicer human being than I was last 14 August. And I would have finished that never-ending, increasingly epic and sprawling novelthat currently lies across my bedroom floor in scattered pages.
Oh, all those things I haven’t got and people I am not. I tell myself I should be content, to hold it all lightly and smile in the face of difficulties.
Should: that word laced with guilt, dread and condemnation. Ugh.
At times it seems that the malaise of our generation is dissatisfaction. We want more friends on Facebook so that we look popular enough to attract more friends on Facebook, more information to fuel our wired brains to the latest technologies, gadgets and goods, more of a career than we’re actually ready for and more money to get those new sparkly things that keep popping up in the shops every week.
The more I lose a sense of who I am, the more these feelings of want grow and the more I self-medicate through shopping or obsessive social media checking. My perfectionism and over-ambition grow so furiously I am left feeling frustrated and intensely critical of myself.
But what if delving into my discontent might lead me to greater truths of what I do want? It could be that my list of those things I am not satisfied with, will help me to understand where fulfilment truly lies. Without any of the shoulds, oughts or musts, just because it will actually make me a happier person. And consequently nicer which would also be a bonus for everyone else.
If I dig deeper into what my feelings of inadequacy are telling me, then maybe I’ll find what I’m seeking. Acceptance. Connection. A sense of having achieved something. This makes me feel reassured that I’m not as shallow as I may have at first appeared. Don’t we all want to feel accepted, connect with those around us and know there’s been a purpose to our lives? To want these things is not bad; perhaps it is more that we need to consider what the symptoms are of our own malaise; and whether we are finding things that breathe life into our wants rather than the death that can come from consumerism, addictions or workaholism.
In my search, I might end up asking some bigger questions around what I mean by contentment, and what it really looks like.
I’m not hoping to enter into some zen-like state of existence where I float on a cloud of serenity, acknowledging all is well in the world; that everyone and everything is as it should be and the only problems that exist are the ones I create in my own mind.
I live on the earth, not in paradise where shalom is restored to every person. Even a quick look at the horrific news of the past few weeks will see we are far, far away from paradise. Some dissatisfaction is good; it drives me to live differently. Learning to be satisfied in my own situation and skin does not mean that I am not distressed at the images splashed across the newspapers. In fact simultaneously, I become increasingly restless with injustice because I begin to understand more of the disparities which exist in the world, and then to question what my role is in trying to reduce that gap. It is that unease which will drive me to seek the kingdom with passion, determination and courage. There’s no should about it. If I believe that I am inextricably connected to my suffering brothers and sisters, their discontent becomes mine; compassion will inspire me to strive not solely for my own contentment. This revolution of love which agitates my complacency is the very thing that heals me.