IN SEARCH OF CONTENTMENT
By Kurt J. Kolka
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.
This summer I saw my best friend from kindergarten (who now lives out East) twice. It is always great to see him. He is like the brother I never had. However, I always thought he was more successful than I was.
Even when I look back to childhood, he was the first of us to try everything and typically the better at everything we tried. Little has changed in the past five decades. Even today, he has the nicer house, nicer vehicles, takes the more expensive vacations, etc.
You know what, however, this year he turned to me and said, “I have yet to find a job that I can call my passion.”
It was the first time I noticed such a feeling of discontentment in his voice. He seemed to have it all, as far as I could see. He was not rich, but he surely brought in far more financially than my wife and I. Yet, even that was not enough to make him content with life. Wow.
It has made me really ponder the idea of contentment and how we view it.
Over the past few years, my wife and I have been downsizing our lives. She retired. I've become self-employed as a freelance writer. It sounds like fun, but the change has not been easy. We've had to find a lot of ways to cut back on expenses, make sacrifices.
My wife and I are moving to a smaller house and are finding all kinds of things in the basement and attic of our former house which at some point during the past 25 years we thought would make our lives better and us happier. Some were used once or twice. A few were still in the packaging.
As we go through the various items in our house while packing up, I keep asking myself, “Is this item important to me? Is it necessary? Does it bring some kind of contentment to my life?”
I am surprised at the number of times I keep asking myself these questions over the same objects. Over time, some very comforting amenities have slowly made their way to the giveaway or throw-away piles, after surviving several rounds of questioning.
It is amazing how many things seemed so important at the time, but now are some hollow objects which don't warrant space in the new, smaller house.
What does make me content? I wonder. Certainly contentedness is not what I had thought it was.
Since I was a child of nine or 10, I wanted to be a writer. I loved to write. In sixth-grade I was writing my own mini novellas and passing them around the classroom at school. Contentment to me back then was simply becoming a writer.
Enter the media. Every time there was an interview with a writer on TV, I used to watch as the interviewer would take us on a tour of the writer's mansion and talk about their latest Top Ten, million-dollar successes. Bonus! I thought. All writers must not only get to write to make money, they must be rich too!
There is a problem with that type of thinking that the media peddles through TV sets around the country. After spending 30 years of my life in various aspects of the newspaper business, I've learned that doing what you love and “financial success” do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. Most writers I know are far from rich. They get by from paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes pursuing your dream means giving things up, not adding to your pile.
That is a rather sobering thought. It is especially true as I go through all the stuff we have which won't fit into our new house. It makes me wonder, how many of these things, I am now getting rid of, did I pick up trying to keep up with others. Considering the number of times they were used, they certainly did not bring more contentment to my life.
And I think back to what my long-time friend said about a job of passion. Writing had always been my passion. That is, until the media stepped in and said the proof of success in any profession is money and material things.
Sadly, there are even TV preachers who promote a similar message. Follow God and He will make you rich. Riches bring happiness – contentment. Strange how that didn't work for the Apostle Paul.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul said he had learned to be content in any situation, even living out of a tent. How could that be? He knew what he was doing was his passion. It was his mission from God. Success wasn't measured in riches, but in a single soul being transformed by the Gospel message. Even that had less to do with him and more to do with the work of the Holy Spirit.
Despite the fact that my best friend had more money to do what he wanted and get what he wanted, it had not made him any more content with his life. My jealousy of what he was able to do did not change that either.
True contentment seems to come when we stop looking at others and concentrate on what we have been called to do. Afterall, nothing money buys us will be taken into the next world when we go. However what we do to touch the lives of others will.