This morning I cradled a cup of delightfully-roasted Kenyan AA coffee. The Christmas tree lights were on. All five of my children were asleep. I was spending time in silence, meditating, praying, and thinking about the day.
It was a moment of bliss.
I have a healthy family, a peaceful moment, a warm home, and a fantastic cup of coffee. Who could want anything more than this?
The answer: me.
I could want more.
In fact, I do want more.
I so often neglect the things that I have in order to pursue things that I don’t.
It’s hard to be content during the Christmas season. There are high expectations for what the day is supposed to feel like. There are these things that we hope that we get. You want to see the glee and wonder in your children’s eyes.
We busy ourselves planning get-togethers with our friends, family, and coworkers. We strive to have a good time. Hopefully, we do a good work or two.
When you’re packing your Christmas tree away you let out a sigh. You release all the tension. You experience the letdown.
Was that a good Christmas?
Was it a good enough Christmas?
Did we get enough? Did we give enough? Did we execute our plans?
And without much pause, we start planning for the things we want out of the new year.
What are we going to accumulate?
What are the things that I want to stop doing and new things that I want to start?
How can I make my life better?
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All I Want for Christmas
There’s hardly a time when contentment feels farther away than Christmas.
I’m a fairly disciplined person. I generally do what I set out to do. Perhaps I don’t always meet my high standards for myself, but I find it fairly easy to add healthy habits to my life.
Despite my ability to do the “right things” no matter how many presents are under the tree, how much quality time I spend with my family, how much money I make, clients I add, or how well I roast my next cup of coffee, I’ve never arrived.
I’ve never reached contentment.
I want to be a little more in shape, and have a little more impactful business.
I want my kids to grow up healthier, stronger, and better educated.
All I really want this Christmas is contentment.
This stirring discontent in my heart, this desire for something more, isn’t just me. It’s the way the world is designed.
Even though it’s uncomfortable it’s actually on purpose.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe I belong to a place that is whole, a place that is healthy a place that is complete.
But when I look at the world around me I see greed, pain, and brokenness. Something in my spirit is not content with that. And it’s not supposed to be.
It’s supposed to long with eager anticipation for the fulfillment of something better than what I see.
But I get confused.
Instead of appreciating where things are whole in my life, instead of appreciating beauty, instead of looking forward to the fulfillment of something promised, I strive.
If I can just get the business to this point,
If the church grows to this size.
If our nonprofit gets here.
If my toddler just stops whining!
This discontentment will go away.
How many times have you reached what was supposed to be the pinnacle of your career, ministry or finances only to find a higher peak before you?
The Never-Ending Rise to the Top
If we’re looking for our money to make us content, we’re looking in the wrong place.
Once I retire….
Once I’m financially independent….
Once we get some stable donations…..
If only we get this grant….
Is that true? Haven’t you said those things, reached that spot, and then found the hole in your life the same if not bigger?
Pastors and nonprofit directors know better than anyone else how far the world is from feeling healed, feeling whole, and feeling content.
It’s an unsettled place where disturbing things happen. Frankly, it’s a mess. Yet we still look to it to fulfill us.
I’m not sure I’ve found the path to contentment, but I know what doesn’t work.
I’ve tried earning a bunch of money.
I’ve tried throwing my life into a cause.
I’ve tried extra time with the family.
But all those things have let me down. They haven’t made me content. They’ve just revealed my insatiable appetite for more.
Wouldn’t it be a bummer to spend your life hoping for retirement to find out you are no happier in retirement than you were working?
Wouldn’t it suck to build an estate only to find out you don’t have relationships with the people you’ll pass it on to?
Isn’t it impossible to rest your contentment on the eradication of poverty, the fulfillment of justice, or the success of a mission too big for you?
Instead of solving for retirement, education planning, tax reduction, or estate efficiency, wouldn’t it make more sense to solve for contentment?
What if contentment was closer than you thought? How would you know?
I don’t know what would bring you contentment. I don’t know what you believe about what happens to you after you die. Or how this whole mess ends up.
What I do know is these few practices have brought me closer, albeit without arriving, to contentment.
Maybe as you’re thinking about New Year’s resolutions you could think about adding one of these practices and perhaps finding contentment in the New Year.
Sometimes more isn’t better. Sometimes it’s just more. Consider places in your life where you could live simply. Our work and anxiety over money are a function of our lifestyle.
Would our stress lessen if our monthly nut was lower?
Are we working for things that bring us contentment? Or are we working for things we think we’re supposed to want?
You may not know until you try going without. Experiment with things you can cut out of your life and see if they increase or decrease your contentment.
A $7,000 used car brings me no less joy than a $50,000 new car.
A walk in the woods brings me more happiness than a $50 day on the golf course (the golf course increases my anxiety exponentially!).
Designer clothes bring me no more contentment than off-brand clothes.
Maybe the same isn’t true for you, but do you know? Or are you just living out a script set for you?
While simplicity is about changing your lifestyle, fasting is about periodic times of purposeful abstinence. It’s stepping away from things that you think you need to realize are they are actually things that you want.
Fasting one day a week from food can be a great way to tame your appetite for delicacies. When you fast, you realize your privilege. When you add that thing back into your life you are able to enjoy it for what it is, a gift.
Some people fast television, social media, or alcohol, spending time away from something that you mindlessly reach for when you’re bored creates space to think about life and recognize how dependent you are on it for happiness…or are you?
This is the proverbial “grace” before meals, but less rote. Whether it’s writing three things you are grateful for before you go to bed, or saying a prayer of “thanks” when your paycheck hits the bank account, look for opportunities to schedule gratitude into your day.
Get your kids involved. Ask them what they are grateful for at the end of each night and let them ask you. You’ll find yourself focusing on what you have, not what you lack.
You can’t fulfill everything that you want, that’s kind of the point.
There’s a world that’s bigger and more enduring than you.
Learning the humility to embrace that, instead of fighting it will bring you closer to contentment. Thinking about money decisions as ways to draw you nearer to contentment rather than “optimizing” your money will give you permission to enjoy your working years instead of hanging on to some imaginary date where you’ll be able to “enjoy life”.
If you aren’t content now, maybe you’re spending your money wrong. Experiment with some lifestyle changes, rethink the way you make decisions, and recognize that life doesn’t have to be perfect before you can enjoy it.
Maybe I won’t get what I want for Christmas this year, but maybe I can get just a little bit closer.
Maybe that should be enough.