Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wintering Others' Discontent

Dusk is falling all around me, silently painting green leaves a crisp black silhouette against a living grey sky. A planet blinks open its eye, peering at me sitting here in the gathering darkness—alone. Winding down the day with a London Fog, staring at the sky all by one's self may not be ideal for many; yet for me, this is my favourite part of the day. It is cool and quiet, a time of reflection and being.

In the comforting twilight, hiding me from prying eyes—save that of the aforementioned planet—I have time to mull over the conversation I had with a friend recently. He had asked if I was happy where I am, as so many of my friends are transitioning into relationships, moving away from the ministry where I work, or going on adventures. Owl-like, I blinked at the question. Had I given the impression that I was unhappy or dissatisfied with life? No, he simply thought it must get wearing to always be the one plugging along while things happened to everyone else. What did I want more than this 'provincial life?' he questioned.

Should I want something more than enjoying the work of my hands, the leisure I have, the family and friends I have been given, or the home in which I live? Spiritually I want so much more—more holiness, more discipline, more love, more of Jesus. Yet physically and emotionally I am content. Content, not complacent, mind you. My relationships have their ups and downs, there are days I want to run away and get lost in the woods not to find my way out again until starlight—but I still love my life.

Why are people so constantly nagging me to move on, move forward, or to move away? On to what? Away where? What do they think I should be chasing, if not a contented life? What if I like to listen to the footfalls of rain on the leaves or to sit in silence on my front porch? What if I don't want to have someone waiting for me when I get home from my day? I am thankful to come home to a dark, quiet house, ready for me to fill it with soft lights and stillness, or sometimes my friends and family.

Curiosity that must restrain itself from becoming bitterness wells up in me, why do others want to foist their discontentment upon me? I struggle to maintain balance and to have enough solitude in my days and weeks, but my frustration at my lack of discipline does not mean I don't like my job. I might not like how much time it takes away from my mornings, but I like the work that I do. It lies on me to rise earlier so I have more morning to enjoy before tromping to my little mail room. Sometimes I overcommit my evenings, then feel drained or harried because I have not recharged in quiet thanksgiving to the Maker of the stars—but that doesn't mean I need to run off to a new place. I am my own worst enemy—my lack of managing the time I am given frustrates me deeply—but finding a new position at work, moving, or getting married will not fix that. Any of those things would simply sap my time and provide me with a score of more stressful considerations. I must learn discipline and rhythm here and now before I can implement it at any other point in the future.

When I see the source of my frustration—my own failing at discipline—I puzzle over the discontent others have for me. Why hasn't someone snatched you up and married you? they want to know. Maybe because I haven't let them. I enjoy being single, why do I need to pursue something I don't have if I am content with what I do have?

Why don't you try to move up into a different position at work or find a different job? I hear often. Why should I seek a job I'm not suited for—or wouldn't like—when I enjoy the one I have now? More money and benefits are not always worth the mental or emotional strain certain positions bring. I can leave work at work—I can come home without it weighing on my soul. Peace of mind and a flexible schedule that allows me to spend time with those I love are more valuable than the prestige of a bigger title (and the stress such a title brings).

What are you going to do next? someone is always wondering. Live life each day. What are you doing now? I wonder internally.

Don't you want to change the world or go on adventures? That, at least, is a sensible question. I want to influence my sphere of friends and acquaintances with the love and light of Jesus. I want to be hospitable and gracious. I seek to be faithful with the gifts I have been given, whether it is my home, time, words, or material goods. I may not be serving meals to the homeless, but I try to open my front door to my neighbours. Who defines adventures? Does hiking in uncharted snow for miles and seeing an avalanche count? Does scaling a fourteener make the list? How about travelling all over the country because I have friends to visit? And what about the adventures that happen on my front porch? From chasing away black bears to chatting with skunks and squirrels, or watching magnificent lightning storms. I think I have a pretty interesting life.

Maybe I am too easily satisfied. Perhaps the discontentment I hear in the comments others make ought to spur me toward bigger goals, but it does not. I am not inclined to be discontented with life. So many persons have been conditioned by culture to think there is only one way to be content or successful—whether that is always manoeuvring one's way up in the working world, or getting married, or doing new things, or being constantly busy. If those are the things that make one content, why is it that the friends I know who are chasing those goals are so often miserable and dissatisfied?  

I take risks, have friends, go on adventures, enjoy coming home to quiet, and get to sit under a starry sky alone with the night and its Creator. And I like it. The hardest parts of my life are things I inflict upon myself—namely, lack of discipline and love—and the pall of malcontentedness others seem to cast on me in their search for a good and meaningful life. The winter of others' discontent is made glorious by the Son of God—in realising that He does not leave us in the squalor of our sin; in giving thanks for that which is good, even if it is hard. These things bring us to Jesus, shaving off our selves and allowing His likeness to be seen in us.

It can be difficult to meet the discontentment others pour on us with the warmth of the Son's joy. Yet joy is a choice—often in the face of hard, unpleasant, or uncontrollable circumstances. Joy is a choice—even when our fellow Christians are not choosing it, we should. We are free in Jesus to choose to be content in the good we have, rather than to be discontented over what we have not.

Are you a person who freezes others with your discontentment about their life's progress? How can you choose to encourage them where they are instead? Perhaps you are like me, prone to get bitter when someone asks me yet again why I have not moved up the corporate ladder or why I am not married. What do we need to do in order to halt frosty replies with genuinely warm contentment? Most often the answer for me is very simple—though hard to practise: to choose to hold my tongue, to pray for kindness, and to enjoy where I am, even if it confuses others. Now then, this evening, I’m going to enjoy nightfall, cricket songs, and the bless├ęd silence the slower-by-choice single life permits.


  1. A question I've wondered about for awhile: what is it about other peoples' thoughts/remarks on the subject that frustrates you so much? The contemplative life has (almost) always been a niche one rather than a center for popular acclaim, and for people to misunderstand it is probably about par for the course. It would seem much less work to just treat it as a common misconception, rather than something worthy of invoking the energy which becoming prickly would cost one. At the core, not all people readily comprehend the same life aspirations; it kind of reminds me of a passage written by Peggy Noonan about one of her own experiences:

    "[My former colleagues] would look at me and say 'What are you doing now?' And I would say with pride, 'I am writing a book.' And they would look at me appraisingly, as if I'd said, 'I'm in physical therapy to heal a badly fractured leg.'
    And they'd say, 'But what are you--/doing/?'
    I told a friend about it . . . I said, 'Why do they do that, why do they think writing a book isn't doing something?'
    He said, 'Because they're republicans. Democrats respect books because they respect ideas. Conservatives respect books because they respect ideas. Republicans respect money.'
    Ah, I said.
    He told me the next time someone asked me what I was doing I was to answer, 'I got a huge advance for a book.' He said they would be impressed. And you know, I think they were.
    So that's the difference between Republicans and Conservatives." -Peggy Noonan

    1. To attempt to answer your question, wouldn't it annoy you if your friends treated your pursuit of life as lesser, abnormal, and worthless? It frustrates me that people are condescending to my ideals and what I consider the good life. I don't disparage them for wanting to be married, raise a family, or pursue goals at work. I'm glad those things don't drive me, but I think they are good in others (I certainly think they should also seek to learn to have time for contemplation, of course). Why can't they treat me with the same appreciation? It isn't as if I'm a lazy bum living on welfare... Then, at least, I would deserve their disapprobation, but in my current state, I don't deserve it or want it.

      I can understand Noonan's frustration... Even if I don't know what it's like to get paid for my writing. ;)

    2. That's pretty much the aspiring writer's lot in life, though... : 0) (Well, maybe my life, anyway.) But I didn't choose the contemplative life because I expected people to cheer me on in it, I chose it because the world is deeply wounded, and needs to be approached thoughtfully; as such, I really don't give a button if people consider it something worthy of cheering me on in or no. I like the way Chesterton once described the predicament:

      "Roughly speaking, there are three kinds of people in this world. The first kind of people are People; they are the largest and probably the most valuable class. We owe to this class the chairs we sit down on, the clothes we wear, the houses we live in; and, indeed (when we come to think of it), we probably belong to this class ourselves. The second class may be called for convenience the Poets; they are often a nuisance to their families, but, generally speaking, a blessing to mankind."

      Getting people to appreciate the nuances of a contemplative life (e.g. the starving artist's perspective on life; passion for one's goals, even if they are not mainstream indicators of success) tends to be even more difficult than getting people to appreciate the nuances of (for example) political based books and the like, so I've pretty much just given up trying, and thus find peoples' lack of understanding more amusing than bothersome.

    3. Well, I'm not exactly asking to be cheered on by others, but not being looked down on would be nice. Condescension is odious (I need to be careful not to practice it!). I guess this is simply where we differ—the opinion of my friends matters to me. I'm going to live the good life as best I can, whether they approve or not, but I would like them to at least try to understand or appreciate it....

      But what does Chesterton say the third sort of person is like? :)

    4. Well, someone who would be openly and *intentionally* condescending over something personal would get thrown out of my categorization of friendly relations faster than I could say lickety split, so there is that... ^_^;

      Chesterton's third characterization would have been a bit awkward standing by itself before he further explained it, so I left it out. However, essentially he was talking about the type of person who enjoyed feeling important more than they enjoyed actually understanding the world; a degraded type of "professor."

    5. Haha, why doesn't that surprise me? I don't know if people are being intentionally condescending, but I get the feeling often that they don't think the way I live life is really doing anything much.

      Ah, those folks... I know a few of those, sadly. Thanks for the link!

  2. I'm rather late to the conversation, but I must add that this has happened to me in every stage of life (this far). It's easy to think that things will change and people will suddenly realize how silly they have been when you ---- [fill in the blank] -- but they won't. It will be the next thing. When you get married, they MUST KNOW why you don't have children yet {and give long speeches promoting the virtues of doing so}... etc. If it's not one stage, it's the next. :) For some folks I really do think it's an honest attempt to start a conversation with a stranger. It's what they know. The problem is how much they don't know about me, or why I do or don't do the next thing. :)

    You are not alone, friend! We all face the condescension of others at times, for different things, and it serves as a good reminder to guard against it ourselves as we turn and relate to others. <3

    1. Noelle!

      Yes, I've noticed that, too. People always want to know "What's next?" rather than what's now... It irritates me when I want to live in the now and so many others are stuck in the "what's to come" box. I can't live ahead, I can barely plan ahead because things change, people change. And you're right, we (read: I) need to be careful not to do the same thing to other people.

      Also, I'm trying to keep up with things at work during the curriculum rush, but I have been thinking of you a lot lately and would love to catch up soon. :)

      <3 Me

    2. Jody!!! You have been on my mind as well and I try and pray for you when that happens .. for guidance for the NOW of life. :) We all need that as well. Don't let others de-rail you when you're on the path that God has set before you. <3

      I would love to catch up with you as well. I know that you keep yourself to phone calls on certain days - what days are convenient?

    3. You good and kind woman, thank you for your prayers! Evenings after 7pm your time work well (not this Monday, though), and sometimes Sunday afternoons (those are hit and miss).
      What works best for you with yours and your hubby's schedule?

    4. This week we are gone to South Dakota until Thursday! :) After we get home Sunday this week would work for me, or the Tuesday after. I'm working mornings now, but anything after 1:00PM usually works!

  3. Jody! Yes, I'm finally catching up on your posts. I think your character and godly example are more than enough and comparison doesn't get anyone anywhere, but rather robs joy and leads to discontentment. I love that you long for more of Jesus! Anyway, thank you for being an example to me. I admire you.

    1. Hannah! What a happy surprise to hear from you. I think of you and Scot and little miss Abigail and wonder how you all are... I hope you folks are quite well. I miss seeing your posts. Thank you for your encouraging, uplifting words! You are a blessing to me. :)