The Elusive Business of Contentment (Part 1)

game-of-life

Socrates once said, “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

Martha Washington, our countries first “first lady” said, “The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

And Pastor Steven Furtick gave great insight and truth when he shared, “One of the Enemy’s most effective strategies is to get you to focus on what you don’t have, what you used to have, or what someone else has that you wish you had. He does this to keep you from looking around and asking, “God, what can You do through what I have?”

Our culture influences us to be discontent by teaching us to play by the wrong rules…and it starts early.

When I was young, my sisters and I played a game called “The Game of Life.”

“The Game of Life” subtly or not so subtly taught me at an early age, what success was and where happiness came from:

These were the rules:
>He who ends up with the most money WINS!
>You get money for having children.
>You get a car for free.

This got ingrained in my head as I went to business school in the 80’s and it was reinforced by my professors and by the award winning movie “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, where happiness and contentment came by getting what you wanted, at all costs…IT LOOKED SO GLAMOROUS AND TRUE.

Then I got out in the real world and learned that there were different rules and realities in the real game of life that were the exact opposite of the board game.

These are the REAL rules:
>Money has little to do with whether you win the game!
>Kid’s suck you dry of every dollar you will ever make.
>You only get a free car if you make the half time shot at an NBA game or you win one on “The Price is Right”.  And yet you still have to pay taxes on it.

The truth is, people are really confused these days about what the rules of life are.

Never in the history of our world have we had more.

Never in the history of our world has depression, sadness, loneliness and discontentment been higher.

CONFESSION: I am not very good at contentment. I wrestle with this everyday. Maybe it’s my generation, maybe it’s the way I’m wired up, maybe it’s my experiences, for sure it’s my fallen nature but I struggle with contentment.

The wisdom of scripture and the testimony of content people makes me realize that “Real contentment does not come from the right circumstances, but from a rich relationship with God.”

Not the right circumstances.  (You fill in the blank of what circumstances would make you content…a job, a better job, money, more money, a spouse, a better spouse, health, better health, a house, a better house, children, better children, that your children would move out.)

We can spend our whole life hoping to spin the right number, hoping that we will land on the right spaces, so we will get the things that will make us happy, or we can stop, begin a relationship with the one who made us, redeemed us and discover that contentment isn’t as elusive as we think.

Our cultures contentment is like cotton candy. It might taste good, but it’s fleeting, you can’t build you life on it, and you can’t eat too much or it will make you sick.

You get a new car and it smells good for a while, then you get the first door ding and the first spill and the first payment and you no longer have that rush of happiness when you see it. (Cotton Candy)

You meet this amazing person, and for a while you can’t sleep, work or do anything without thinking about this perfect human being that God has given you, and then it’s not long before you realize they have some quirks, and they do some things that irritate you, and they have bad breath, and the feeling of euphoria that you felt for that 1st week has left, reality has set in, and the real work of love begins. (Cotton Candy)

You go to a church and the music grabs a hold of your soul and you are amazed at how brilliant and relevant the person is who is giving the message, and then you keep coming and the music loses it’s emotional edge and there is a song that the worship team does too often and it’s getting on your nerves, and the guy who is giving the messages tells the same joke too often and is a little long winded at times and you realize he is not as brilliant and relevant as you thought and you have to decide that your belief in God is deeper than a feeling and the real work of faith begins. (Cotton Candy)

Imagine getting to the place the Apostle Paul got to when he wrote these words in prison, “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One(Jesus)who makes me who I am.”

2 QUESTIONS:

1) From a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being very content and 1 being not content at all, how are you doing when it comes to living a contented life?

2) When and where are those times when you are most content? What are you doing?

I will talk more about this in “The Elusive Business of Contentment” (Part 2)

For more thoughts about contentment, you can watch my message on contentment starting at the 25:45 mark: http://vimeo.com/71704976

The Generosity of the Poor

The Canyon

“You say you care about the poor? Tell me their names.” ― Craig Greenfield

The life expectancy is 40 years.
The lucky live on $2 a day.
The hope is one meal a day.
The dirt is their floor and the stars their roof.
The smell of methane fills their lungs.
The lack of choices interrupts their dreams.
They live 10 minutes from the richest country in the world.

These are the lives and challenges of the children and families in the closed garbage dumps of Tijuana, Mexico known as “The Canyon”.

As an American, many things are confusing and unsettling in “The Canyon.”

1. The Mexican government closed the dump, covered it with a couple feet of soil, marked off lots and sold this land back to its poorest citizens knowing that the health risks are devastating.

2. The desperateness of the situation attracts drugs and gangs leading to some very dangerous neighborhoods.

3. The lack of education(most have at best a 7th grade education) drives families to collect trash, burn it and take from it the few precious metals it leaves behind and sell it to the local multi-million dollar recycling company.

4. Children get caught in a vicious cycle where education becomes more difficult to continue as they grow older due to the cost and the need for a birth certificate by the 6th grade, while at the same time, parents need their kids to burn trash to look for income generating metals or watch over their younger siblings while they go off to work somewhere else. These are all obstacles to a higher education.

All of this is the definition of injustice. The first time an American takes a tour of “The Canyon” numbness, sadness, anger and guilt are the emotions that come flooding forth.

But the longer an American hangs out in “The Canyon”, other emotions and observations come forward.

1. There are heroic organizations, private schools and churches that have dedicated their resources and purpose to serve this forgotten community.

2. David Lynch started a school on a blue tarp and 20 years later, almost 100 children, ages 3-5 are getting an education, in a beautiful facility, learning English and computer skills, the two things that will eventually get them out of the canyon creating more options of making and living a decent life.

3. Dave Hessler, a retired American, has an office at the Blue Tarp school and is the unofficial community leader and connector of resources to needs. He meets with families and connects them to food, medical help and better home construction, while advocating for school child sponsorship and newer and bigger computer labs. Dave is a connector but most of all he is a conduit of hope as he listens and prays with each family, and though he can’t meet all the needs, people know he cares and that they are not alone.

4. One of the residents of “The Canyon”, Javier, a father of 6, with his 7th on the way, who lives in a 10 x 20 home, a large home for the canyon, advocates for the less fortunate in his community, having families stay with him while their smaller homes are getting first time roofs or dirt floors are being replaced by cement or walls are being expanded. Javier has so little yet his smile and gratitude is very humbling. Surprisingly Javier’s attitude is representative of many of the residents in “The Canyon”.

With all the injustice and heroism you see in “The Canyon”, as an American, the biggest thing I took away from “The Canyon” was a sense of my own poverty. My life lacks so much.

My lack of gratitude.
My lack of contentment.
My lack of caring for my neighbor.
My greed, ignorance and self-focused priorities exposed my poverty.

As I think of ways to help fight poverty in “The Canyon” I am also thankful for how they are helping me with my own poverty.

This is the way God works. He confounds the seemingly strong and successful by teaching us through the seemingly weak and forgotten.

John Steinbeck in the “Grapes of Wrath” wrote, “If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need – go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help – the only ones.”

The times I have spent over the years in the canyons of Tijuana, Mexico to the valleys of La Mission and Guadalupe, Mexico, Mr. Steinbeck is exactly right.

The generosity of a meal given by a single mom who has nothing, the working along side a father who is struggling to make ends meet, who is helping his homeless neighbor build his house, to a young child wanting to give back to me a portion of the candy I had just handed him is counter-intuitive and mind sheering to an American who never has enough, is constantly worried about the future and holds on to things way to tightly.

As you decide to fight injustice and care for the poor, AND YOU MUST, it is God’s mandate, brace yourself for the lessons you will learn and the freedom you will experience and the strength you will discover through “the least of these.”

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