It is there in the back of my head, the dull but incessant thought that my life should somehow be better. Somehow, I should be using my time more effectively. Somehow, I should have deeper friendships. Somehow, I should spend more time with my family. Somehow, I should be doing "God's plan" for my life. Somehow.
So after so many years, why do I feel no closer to this dream? If anything, life seems to be unravelling and spilling out of my hands like too much spagetti, rather than becoming neater. I have decided it is because of mindset, and it is a fine line that lies between complacency and hectic discontent. Lean too far one way, and we fall into becoming slack and slothful, but too far the other and we find ourselves trying to please everyone.
I believe it comes down to comparison. Somewhere deep in our hearts, we have a set of ideas about how our life should be. These ideas include our work for God, the 'significance' of our lives, models of what relationships we should have, and notions of 'normal days' where everything goes 'right'.
After much thought, I have realised such ideas are driven by our heart's desires. We desire to be loved, so we believe we should have loving relationships that fulfill that desire. We desire to be admired, so we believe we should be doing things to inspire admiration from others. We desire to be successful, so we believe we should see evidence of our success. Our wishes for significance, respect, peace, 'goodness', security, and certianty lead us to create a mental world that we think would fulfill our desires.
While good desires are not wrong, we can create such beautiful mental worlds, and we are grossly disappointed when we compare our idealistic mental world with the one we experience. This, I believe, is the source of discontent. Discontent erupts from the colliding mismatch between what we experience, and what we think we should experience. Lo, and behold, it is not rocket science!
Certianly, it is good and healthy to have dreams and aspirations, and to seek to do our best with what we are given in life. Yet, what good does it do comparing where we are to where we believe we should be? Would it do any good when starting a marathon to think, "I should be at the finish line"? No, the end goal motivates us and pulls us through the journey, it does not tend to make us feel better that we have not reached it.
Yet, we are constantly bombarded by what our lives 'should' involve. Look at the media, look at the culture of most Western countries - it has become such a part of our society, and our churches, we scarcely see it there. Little wonder we are discontent! Yet look at some 3rd world countries, many people there are truely happy and content, not because they have great circumstances, but perhaps because they expect nothing better.
We are told in the much-heralded Christian conferences that we should be significant, have impact, have influence, and change the world. While it is true that the church should indeed be light and salt in the whole world, it is so only on a corperate level. Yet, we feel like we 'should' personally change the whole world in an amazing way because 'God wants us to'. No wonder I see myself falling so short of the good Christian mark, it is not that I am not reaching far enough - it is that people tell me I should be able to do the high-jump with no pole.
God did not command us to be great people of influence and impact, He commanded us to love, and share the Good News of His love with others. Is it loving to focus so much on getting the world to love us and to love God that we leave no time for those we love? It is more blessed to give than to recieve, and this is especially true of love.
So, the great ideas of 'impact' and 'influence' preached at us can perhaps do us more harm than good, for they so focus our eyes upon the distant horizon that we stumble upon the ground we walk. Yet, at the same time, we must not spend so much time looking at where we are that we forget where we are going.
Jesus called us to be perfect, even as the Father is perfect. Jesus Himself was perfect. And yet, Jesus did not convert the world. In fact, He had trouble making even his followers believe Him. So why are we told we should personally be such spiritual, financial, and relational superstars? Jesus called us to be servants. The least, not the greatest. The body, not the head. If anything, we should seek to become less of ourselves, to allow more of God to shine out though us. It is the desire to serve better, and to love more, that should prevent complacency - not the desire to make our experience line up with our idealistic mental picture.
Fulfillment comes from what we give far more than from what we get. Focusing too much on what we desire leads to us believing we should have what we desire, and discontent with the lack of what we desire. Focussing only on the here-and-now can lull us into laziness, instead of walking on and growing emotionally, mentally and spiritually as will obey the Lord who calls us on. Yet, focussing on our direction with thankful hearts for our progress results in a balance between contentment and action. So let us set our eyes not on our feet, for we will not move, nor on the distant horizon, for we will stumble in discouragement, but on the steps ahead while appreciating the beauty that adorns our path. Perhaps then we will find we are walking the high-wire of contentment.