Finding biblical contentment in the age of #grindtime
I’m a bit of a joy addict. I search high and low, obsessed with finding the next thing, person or place that will fill my life with joy. It’s a habit well-aligned with everything our culture tells us.
“Find what you love and do that.”
“Life’s too short to be unhappy.”
"It's not the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away."
But what these cliches impress upon us is the idea that grander is better. So we #grind. We’re willing to work for that next level up, that next promise of joy—but when does the work end?
In short: it doesn’t.
And while having goals and making strides towards them is a healthy aspect of the human experience, when the goals become the only source of joy, we’ve lost our way altogether.
Instead, God tells us to seek contentment. And it’s a foreign concept to us.
Ask anyone how they’re doing, and no one responds, “I’m content.” We perceive that word as a neutral, unmotivated state of meh. However, it actually describes the act of being “satisfied.”
It’s something I have always struggled with. In high school, all I wanted was to get to college. In college, I just needed the perfect job. And now in the real world, I find myself dreaming up grander destinations and loftier goals out of restlessness. I am still not satisfied.
The bible has a lot to say about contentment, both about its importance, and how to gain it. One of my favorite examples precedes the commonly-used, “Sunday school” verse: Phil. 4:13.
“I can do all through Christ who gives me strength.”
What a feel-good Christian moment, perfect for a needle-point pillow or an Instagram bio. But without the context, we miss how impactful those words really are; so let’s back up:
Quick note: Here, Paul is writing to the people of Philipe from prison, thanking them for their concern about him. Cause ya know, he’s in jail. But, he says that he is not in need. He “has learned the secret of being content.” This commonly-used verse of overcoming the impossible is simply about finding contentment in all circumstances.
The largest obstacle to my contentment? The Instagram explore page.
As a social media manager, I know that the majority of social media is not real life; however, I still find myself comparing and criticizing my life against another I see online. I suppose there’s a level of understanding that my peers in my personal feed aren’t perfect; but on the explore page, deep in the algorithms, lie all the things I want, or think will make me happy. The proposals. The baby announcements. The Joanna Gaines home of my dreams. And the more I click, the more Instagram delivers. It’s a vicious cycle I cannot break.
It’s a cycle that became increasingly obvious to me when I moved to Nashville. Here I was living in the heart of Music City, steps from iconic bars and music venues, working a dream job, becoming the person I thought I wanted to be. I was the highlight reel of other people’s jealous daydreams. I was proud of my level-up. But I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and experience Nashville the way I thought I should, how I thought would make me happy. I felt like I needed to use my fresh start in the city to revamp my style, my attitude, my standards, the things that made me, me.
I found myself hopelessly devoted to the new and improved Mackenzie. But when this new, Instagram-ready Mackenzie emerged, I didn’t like her. I was struck by the overwhelming epiphany that there was nothing wrong with the old Mackenzie. She didn’t like anything the new and improved Mackenzie was supposed to like. She didn’t want to go out on a Tuesday, or even a Friday. She didn’t want to live steps away from all the action of a city. She didn’t mind being an introvert.
I took a six-week hiatus from Instagram, and I realized what I’d been missing all along:
It’s a phrase I’ve often tried on for size, but as the chronic, “what have I done” washed over me, I realized how far it had truly gotten away from me. I didn’t want to leave Nashville. I didn’t regret my move, I didn’t for even a half-second miss my old comfort zone. So when did this "dream" become so disappointing, and how do I get back on track?
I knew this was where I was meant to be, and if God had lead me here, he had something big in store. However, I realized that when God clears a path and calls us to go, we always expect radical change. But radical is relative. His radical plan for us may not look radical on Instagram. It may not even be noticeable to those looking in.
Instead of a life-altering shift, obvious shift, the Lord taught me to be confident in who I am. I like lazy Tuesday nights (and Fridays and sometimes Saturdays), and I don’t really care that I can’t cook. I love to read and write. I love live music, even when I don’t know the words. I hate the city. I’m not impressed by a resume, and when I’m off the clock, I’m off the clock.
But more importantly, God showed me that knowing who I am and where I’m going are two completely different things. Plans change. And I can't stubbornly cling to a changing plan; moreover, I can't let those plans dictate my idea of who I am. When plans go awry, I don't need to reinvent myself and try that same plan again. I can adapt. I can find contentment right there.
I have realized that when I fixate my eyes on the future, I develop contempt rather than contentment for my present.
So instead, I'll look for the people with good hearts and leave my expectations at the door. I'll work for things that push my boundaries, and understand that every new endeavor has its own ups and downs. I'll rest when I feel restless, and I'll calm my human head by connecting my heart to the Holiest.
I know less about my future than I did when I moved here. And that still occupies more time in my mind than I’d like. But I’m working on it. And I’m content with that.