Sunday, April 3, 2011


I was in a book store recently and noticed there was a whole section of books under the title of "Life Change." I thought that sounded interesting, and as I looked across the shelf I found books on moving, changing careers, changing lifestyles, and of course, the ubiquitous get-rich-quick books. "Wow," I thought, "people must really hate their lives. How else could there be such a huge market for this stuff? Why would people spend so much time and money trying to change their life situation unless they were discontent with their life as it currently is." But then I had a second thought, "Is any of this stuff going to help those people? Is attempting to change this stuff really going to cure their discontent?" After reflecting on the question a bit, I've come to the conclusion, maybe...but probably not.

Allow me to explain. First, I am no stranger to change. Due to commitments first to the military, then higher education, and now to church planting, I have moved a total of nine times in the past thirteen years. Once across town, once to a different city, five times to a different state, and twice to a different country. I've had huge swings in income level from one year to the next. I've worshiped with dozens of different churches. This is not theory - I know transition. Here's what I can tell you about transition: it sucks. It's really, really hard and not much fun. Changing situations almost always requires some level of starting over; finding your way around a new neighborhood, learning new job skills, making new friends, etc. And those things take lots and lots of mental and emotional energy.

But here's the flip side, transition can lead to good things. Some of our most rewarding experiences can come after very difficult transitions - like transitioning to parenthood. Emily and I were married for seven years (to the day!) when Enoch was born. We had a pretty solid life routine that we very much enjoyed. Enoch totally disrupted that, in fact he demolished it! A screaming, crying, pooping, eating, screaming, crying, pooping, eating being that demanded our constant attention and didn't give two beans about our life routines. He turned our lives upside down and we have no regrets having him - he's wonderful. It was a hard transition, but totally worth it. That's why I say "maybe" in answer to the question "could transition cure discontent?" Transition can bring good things. Likewise, if you have a boss that has a personality disorder and takes pleasure in torturing you, finding another job could genuinely increase your overall well being.

But here's why I think that those books probably won't help most people; because most of the transitions they are advocating leave out a very important component - us. What if the source of a person's discontent isn't their job, their location, or their situation, but rather, it's them? I once heard a radio interview with a guy who had spent decades traveling all over the world trying out different locations, different cultures, and different religions looking for peace and happiness. This interview really struck me, because his conclusion at the end of it all was that no matter where he went, he couldn't get away from himself. Think about that for a minute. No matter where you go, you can't get away from yourself. This implies that if you aren’t happy in your current situation then you’re not likely to be happy in another. Now this obviously does not apply to someone who is in genuinely terrible living conditions – war zones, concentration camps, etc. In those situations change means a great deal. But most of us aren’t in those situations. We’re just bored, restless, or generally pessimistic. You're unhappy making fifty thousand a year? Well, you'll probably be unhappy making one hundred thousand a year. You're unhappy in Philadelphia? Well, Seattle probably won't be much better. You can't stand being a nurse? Then good luck with your new teaching job, because you're going to need it.

But just remember *warning: impending cliche* the grass is always greener on the other side. It's true. Before you decide to move to another pasture (a new town, a new job, a new church), make sure you’ve truly made an effort to be content with what you have. Otherwise, you may just find yourself jumping from one unhappy situation to the next without understanding the true source of your discontent.

For me, I've found that there are four key areas of satisfaction in my life: friends, community, work, and spirituality. If I focus on getting these four things right, I usually find a great deal to be content with. Realistically, you will not always have all four together (fully), but you should try to put yourself in situations where they can all occur. And you have to work on them, they don’t just happen. You have to make friends, build community, find enjoyment in your work, and choose to live your life with a higher calling. That’s the banana-split of life. (Hobbies and pets are the whipped cream and cherries on top.)

Ok my reader sitting there at your computer, please don't be offended, but now I'm going to get personal. Do you relate to this discontent? Have you been thinking, "If I only had _______, then I'd be happy"? If so, let me share some advice - the most rock solid I can give. The most important thing – the most important! – is to live a life you can be proud of by loving God and loving people. That's it. Everything else is a distraction. Make sure you really examine your motives for change. What do you really want? More stuff? A nicer house? To be “better” than someone else? That's the true source of your discontent. I read an essay once that I think hit the nail on the head; I can't remember the author but the basic idea was this: Worship money and you’ll always feel poor. Worship career and you’ll always feel stuck. Worship the body and you’ll always feel ugly. Worship the intellect and you’ll always feel dumb. But worship God, and you will find peace. So the next time you feel discontent, before you try anything else, try worshiping God.

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