By David Hegg
I stood in line at my favorite coffee shop and realized something frightening. Just like the four folks ahead of me, I had taken out my phone just to see if anyone thought I was important enough to email, text, or Teams. Given my notifications were blank, I quickly went to my news site to see if someone, somewhere had done something that could rescue me from a couple minutes of having to be content with myself, just standing in line.
That’s when I remembered how necessary true contentment is in our lives. And we’re on the brink of losing it both as a concept, and a privilege.
Contentment is a sense of satisfaction in the moments when, apart from outside stimulus, you realize life is good. Contentment is a space where your soul finds rest and peace. It is also a place of gratitude, and even a little humility, in recognition of the truth that you are OK being yourself, and even by yourself.
But two things have turned contentment into something we either don’t want or can’t enjoy.
Today’s infatuation with bigger, better, faster and greater has done damage to the idea of contentment. I once read a book entitled, “When I Relax I Feel Guilty.” Our societal demand for high achievement and even higher output has made heroes out of those who never rest, hardly sleep and push aside everything that might keep them from being the “greatest of all time.” Those who once were warned against being “workaholics” are now the model for the next generation. Contentment is something they can’t afford and don’t want.
But contentment need not be synonymous with complacency. In fact, studies of the workplace show how important time away is, and how important it is to rest, be refreshed, and find a place in your own soul where you are satisfied.
Sadly, a long list could be made of those who have gotten to the top of their game only to find they had no life. Sadder still is the number of those who gained the whole world and lost not only their souls, but threw away their lives in despair.
Technology has also made contentment something few today understand. It has given us so much but in the process, has siphoned away our ability to be content. It has become difficult even to understand what contentment is these days.
We have gained amazing opportunities for convenience, simplicity and efficiency. While in line for coffee, I can take out my pocket computer, connect with someone in Japan, check the stock market, text my wife, and download articles, songs, or whatever I might need, all in a few minutes.
But in so doing, technology has sped up the pace of life so that we are constantly catching up. News, and messages, and texts, and posts are flying into our devices so fast that we actually have to check them constantly to keep up. And why keep up? Because we’ve become addicted to the possibility that some outside stimulus will provide the excitement we need to make the moment something other than mundane and boring. We’re hyped up on the “fear of missing out” and have turned our devices into the purveyors of emotional heroin. And, in the process, we’re quickly losing the ability to be content, in line, in relationships, in life.
All this has caused us to suffer cognitive dissonance. That is when we are thinking two things at once taking us in two different directions. Everyone I know wants peace and rest. But almost everyone I know lives at a pace that prohibits the peace and rest we all crave. We long to be content, to sit and watch the sunset and not wonder if we’re missing a text.
So, here are the telltale signs that you are losing your ability to be content. Do you reach for your phone in line? During TV advertisements? At red lights? If so, realize you’re unable to be with yourself, by yourself, simply allowing your heart to live in the spaces around you, for even a few seconds.
So, friend, here’s an assignment we both need. Set aside 15 minutes today and every day for a week to do nothing but watch the wind blow, or enjoy a cup of coffee alone, or take a slow walk around your neighborhood. Here’s what you’ll find. The wind is an incredible thing! And coffee imbibed for its own sake is so pleasing. And as you walk around your neighborhood you may just meet some real people, and have a real conversation without a keyboard!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t add one more thing. This column is really about the ethical system that provides the foundation for a contented life. The bottom line is, true contentment is the product of a steadfast hope that fortifies the soul even in times of adversity. For me, that hope is grounded in the promises God the Father has made me on the basis of my faith and dedication to God the Son incarnate, Jesus Christ.
Now I have to run. The sun’s going down, there are just the right amount of clouds for a wonderful sunset, and something just got poured into my glass. It’s time for me to consider enjoying some contentment, and I hope you will too!
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.