Why You Can’t Let Yourself Feel Content

by Jun 6, 2024Christian living, Happiness, Identity2 comments

I’ve prayed about discontentment. I’ve confessed it. I keep a gratitude journal. But it was only this past year that I got a breakthrough as to the real problem. I don’t want to be content. I’m afraid of it.

 

I look at successful people and I hear and recycle in my own head their mantras: Stay hungry. Keep grinding. Don’t settle. Keep pushing. I have an addiction to productivity hacks. Maybe there’s something out there in this next book, this latest talk, this new article that will unleash a previously untapped two percent that, when added up daily, finally gets me to that next level.

 

“I’ve bent and manipulated time”

 

I routinely watch a hilarious Instagram reel a friend shared with me. Meet Ed Mylett. He’s a time-bending superhero who gets three days per every one of your pathetic human days. This is not a joke. He’s got about a million followers whom he teaches the revolutionary method of…wait for it.. scheduling your day. Except (spoiler alert) he counts every six hours as one day.

 

What’s fascinating in his interview (besides his appearance of living off caffeine for several years) is how he boasts to the interviewer that his method will enable him, after a month, “to kick your butt.” In what? you might ask. In life, my friend. You didn’t know you were competing? Well you are…and you’re losing, because this guy is hungry. I make fun, but every time I watch the video, there’s a small but terrifying part of me that’s itching to set an alarm for every six hours. Maybe this is secret method I’ve been missing!

 

At least I’m not alone. I heard it while watching March Madness. It was in the aftermath of Purdue beating NC State to advance to the Final Four. Purdue’s success was largely due to their center Zach Edey, who led the country in points and rebounds. After the game, though, one commentator was worried when he heard Edey’s postgame interview. Why? He heard satisfaction in Edey’s voice. There were the tiniest notes of…contentment. Which, as you know, is the harbinger of failure and irrelevance. (Purdue went on to the championship thanks to Edey). The world of sports shows us a barefaced model of the mentality that infects us all—you only get to be Tom Brady by never, ever being content.

 

Achievement addiction

 

Achievement highs followed by discontented lows is its own addiction cycle. Each time you hit a new high, the feeling ebbs away, and you have to chase the next achievement, a bigger one. The faster you descend from your mountaintop of success into feelings of failure and self-loathing, the better. That means you’ll get to your next high quicker.

 

Who will free me from this deathly addiction to discontent? Thanks be to God who has won the victory in Jesus (Rom 7:25).

 

Jesus’ victory has a twofold effect. One is that your acceptance through achievement is finished. Jesus already handed you his trophy. This takes a lifetime to sink in.

 

There’s another piece of good news for you Enneagram 3s (Achievers). God doesn’t want you to abandon ambition but to redirect it. The Christian life is full of struggle, zeal, energy, pushing, achieving. “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers I do not consider that I have made it my own. One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).

 

I don’t think any of us are eager to stack our achievements next to Paul’s. But here Paul is, after a life of staggering impact, and he’s still hungry. And yet one chapter later, he says he’s mastered the art of being content in any situation (Phil 4:11). How can both be true? What is it that Paul has not yet made his own? It isn’t his ranking on 100 Most Influential Disciples. It’s Jesus himself – a knowledge and union with Christ. That’s what both drives and satisfies him. It is different from the achievement-discontent cycle because what you gain (Jesus) is eternal. Even as you want more, what you have isn’t fading away.

 

You will be satisfied

 

Jesus says, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be…satisfied” (Mt 5:6). He’s saying this is one of those rare things that when you want it and then get it, it will be what you were hoping for. The way you get satisfied is by staying hungry for the right thing. There is in fact something for you to strive for, to strain after, to achieve. Christian contentment isn’t the third hour of your cat sunning herself on the couch.

 

You can let your hunger and thirst for righteousness grow rampant without fear of imbalance. You won’t need an intervention because you’ve let these passions run too wild. That’s Paul’s point about the fruits of the Spirit. He says, “against such things there is no law.” Your spouse isn’t about to pull you aside because they’ve noticed you being a little too patient recently.

 

When Jesus promises satisfaction, it’s not learning to give up and float on a Xanax. It’s learning to focus your desire where it will be met. But there’s a different metric in hungering for righteousness. If you want it in order to compare well against others, you’re back in the addiction cycle, and well on your way to becoming insufferable.

 

Your drive towards righteousness should come from loving Jesus himself. You want to be like him. You value righteousness intrinsically, like a good steak or a green smoothie. Your contentment supplies your motivation for more; it doesn’t kill it. Your hunger and thirst for righteousness will continue, but not because the high has faded but precisely because it has stayed with you, because it has satisfied—and what other achievement could you say that about?

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2 Comments

  1. Jim Pletscher

    Insightful and relatable. I continually need to strike the balance between driving harder, doing more, and being content and at peace. I can easily redeem my driven tendencies since we all want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant”. After all, we don’t want to be like the guy in the Parable of the Talents who buried it in the ground, we want to be the guy who increased it 10x – right??? While that good work-ethic has served me well in life, I have seen it often feed the perfectionistic, achievement-oriented part of me, which then easily turns into comparisons and works-based treadmills (sometimes even righteous ones!), which then only leads to discontentment and “try harder” thinking.

    For me, realizing how much God loves me, and that I don’t need to earn his love, was a huge relief, and an eye-opening truth. As Romans 8:1-2 says, “1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” It’s still something I need to work on and remind myself, but such a help, and it has opened me up to realize that, as you said so well, “… Your drive towards righteousness should come from loving Jesus himself. You want to be like him. You value righteousness intrinsically, like a good steak or a green smoothie.” It’s not the merit badge or trophy I used to subconsciously think it was. Whew! Thank God! (and thank you, Justin, for sharing this reminder!)

    Reply
    • Justin Poythress

      Thanks so much, Jim. It really does take a lifetime to sink in that Jesus has given you the trophy. You can’t add to that. It’s a very challenging reality to unpack because the desire to drive forward and work is not like the desire for meth–it’s not some unmitigated evil. God does promise treasures in Heaven that you can store up, and yet you can’t ever earn more acceptance or love from God. It’s a tough balance, but ideally something that leads to “restful working” if you can get it right.

      Reply

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