Content in This Season of Time
When you hear the word contentment, what comes to mind?
A peaceful feeling?
Satisfaction with a job well done?
Happy with the things you have?
The dictionary defines contentment like this. "to be satisfied, to be pleased with what has been experienced or received".
This subject of contentment has been really strong on my heart and mind the last year or so. I feel as if I am just beginning to understand contentment--what it really means, and what it looks like practically. I am realising that it is a huge struggle to me, and to a lot of other people too, though it is not talked about enough. Or maybe we hear, "Just be content!" but what does that mean and how do we actually do it? And the biggest question, is it possible to be content when things in life are going crazy? Is contentment a feeling or a choice?
Lets first look at what the opposite of content is: discontentment. Discontentment is ingrained into our culture. What do I mean by that?
Advertisements all around us try to convince us that we should be discontent with the TV, toys, clothes, phone, or curtains we already have, and that we would be more satisfied with something else. Something newer, something better. And that is nothing new to our time or culture! Tristan found some old 1912 newspapers under floorboards in a house he has been renovating, and it was filled with advertisements of the great deals for new beauty products, foods, tonics and clothes that you simply needed to have! They were guaranteed to transform your life.
Social media constantly bombards us with pictures and stories of other people who seem to have cooler stuff, a more fulfilled marriage, neater experiences, cleaner houses, sexier body and a more interesting life than us. We start to compare ourselves to people all around the world and wish for what they have. We don't even know we want something till we see it in the store, or in our friend's house, or online, and then we feel like we just can't live without it!
We wish for the 'good old days' of times past, or get caught in the rut of 'if only'. We dream of how things will be so much better in the future with a new job, or more money, or a bigger house, or when the kids have finally grown out of this stage.
We run ourselves ragged, working longer and harder, trying to 'get ahead'. Get ahead to what? And will it ever be 'ahead' enough?
It isn't bad to have goals, dreams, and plans and then work hard to accomplish something. In fact, that is what keeps us off the couch binging on Netflix, and busy doing something productive. But when we have to accomplish that thing or acquire that possession in order to be happy, something is wrong.
I came across this story, and I don't know where the story originally came from so I can't source it, but it made me think, and re-evaluate my priorities. This is the story:
There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village. As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite a few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?” The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman. “I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”
When I read this story, I was hit with a WOW. I strive and strive for more of everything... and find that it is never enough. It is so hard to be content and satisfied with the season of life I am in right now. Looking back honestly over the last few years, I feel like I was always striving. Striving for something else. The next thing. Something better. And how futile it all feels.
A few years ago, I was at home with 3 kids under 3, Tristan was working 60-70 (or more) hours a week, we were trying to renovate our house in order to sell it, and convert a school bus into a home to live in. We were trying to get out of debt so we could enjoy life more. Good goal right? Well, as we strived and pushed toward the future of that goal, I wasn't enjoying the present. I wanted each day to just be done.
I found my mind was almost always somewhere else. As I read books to my kids, I was thinking of my to-do list for the day, or the next project. I rushed the kids to nap so I could do as much dry-walling or painting I could squeeze in. I lay in bed at night, exhausted, but mulling over how I didn’t measure up to a standard i had set for myself.
I found myself being busy just to be busy. My worth came from doing things. I would't allow myself to take a break to play blocks with the girls, or sit with a cup of tea at the quiet of nap-time. I was living in the future, worrying, planning, stressing, but having little joy in the present. That season of life slipped by and I can't get those moments back.
And I thought, if only we can accomplish our goal, then we can enjoy life, be satisfied and happy. But contentment is a state of mind, not a state of circumstances. We realised that we were not really 'living' life, just surviving each day. So we slowed down. We took moments to enjoy the time we had together as a family, instead of complaining about the time we didn't. I took more time to cuddle, to do crafts, to go on nature walks with my kids.
And we did accomplish our goal. It took longer, but we got there. We sold our house, paid our debts, and moved into the bus with our 4th daughter born 2 weeks earlier. We finished the rest of the bus at a friends house over the summer and then hit the road. And because of that time, we learned a valuable lesson in regards to contentment.
But it didn't finish there. It is not that we learned to be content and now we are completely content in all circumstances. NO! It is a struggle. Life happens and circumstances in life do not go how we want them to.
We are people and have to guard our minds. No matter what our circumstances, if we don't choose to be content, we will always strive for more. We will always live in the future, and not enjoy the present. We can't face the uncertainties and difficulties of today, or enjoy the good things we have been given by wishing for a different time, be it past or future. The biggest decision or choice to make is whether to be content or not. It will change how you view your circumstances and your life.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul, locked in prison, with every reason to despair and wish for different circumstances. But in that Roman prison he wrote the words,
So I try to choose to sit and enjoy my 1 year-old 'reading' picture books to me. I choose to relax and have a cup of coffee with my husband. I choose to teach my kids at home, helping them discover the wonder of the trees, the ocean and the snow. I choose to be content in this season of life. I want to enjoy it, for I will never get this season of life back.
But, you may ask, "What does that practically mean? What steps did you take to go from striving, to resting? From always wishing for something to be different, to being satisfied with the season of life you are in now?"
I think one practical thing I have learned, is to try and clear my mind. Not in some mystical way, but instead of mulling a hundred things over in my mind all day, I try to write it down, make a plan, and then put it out of my mind so my attention can be on what is happening right in the present. I don't want to be so busy in my mind that I miss out on the life happening right in front of me. And enjoy that life.
You ever lay awake at night thinking of the to-do list of the next day? Get up, write it down and the list will be there for you in the morning. Don't let it take your sleep.
Ever go through the entire day thinking about 'what in the world am i going to make for supper'? Make a meal plan for the week (or even just a few days at a time) so you don't have to think about that each day. Put a meal in the slow cooker at breakfast and it is ready for supper and you didn't even have to think of it all day.
Do you find yourself looking on Pintrest for a cool project to do, but end up spending an hour browsing all sorts of things? Go into it with a plan, a time limit and a pad of paper and pen. Write the ideas down, turn off the computer and then do it.
Stressed over money and worrying how you are going to pay that bill this month? Sit down with a paper, come up with some goals (both short and long-term) of how you can save a bit more, or spend a bit less, or do without something for a time. Then write down some specific steps of how you can put the plan into motion. Focus on them, but don't dwell. Don't let the stress and worries of money rob your whole day or week of joy. Do puzzles with your kids, go sledding, read a good book, explore your neighbourhood, make a new friend, or come up with other FREE fun.
Try not to multi-task too much. Moms are great at multi-tasking but often it can be a hindrance in enjoying the present. Focus can get a lot more done. Don’t try to just cram more into your day, but instead, whatever you do, do WELL.
Don't ever let your focus of what you DON'T have rob you of the joy of what you DO have. Enjoy the time you are in right now. If changes need to be made, sit down, make a plan and start taking steps to implement the plan. Try to keep your mind free so you can enjoy the joys of life that are dancing around in front of your face. Be present and intentional with your time. Take some time to stop and listen to the birds, smell the coffee, watch your kids dance to music, and make a memory in the very moment you are in.
This moment is a gift that you have been given. This moment will never be here again. So enjoy it!