Where Contentment Comes From

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All the laundry was folded, the kitchen was clean (enough for me), and there was nothing left for me to work on.  Tara was watching Christmas movies, the kids were entertaining themselves, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.

Something didn’t feel right.  Before COVID season, we were always so busy that I craved free time to just be present to my wife and kids.  It wasn’t important what we did together, only that we invested time as a family.  Time to enjoy each other is ultimately the reason I work hard and have a busy schedule.

We were several days into another round of isolation and I’d had plenty of time without a calendar reminding me that I was late for a meeting.  All the Dad Projects were caught up.  By definition, this was what I wanted.  This was exactly the situation I told myself I was working toward.  I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy.

Watching movies with my wife didn’t sound appealing.  I wanted to “do” something!  I wasn’t interested in playing video games or toys with the various kids, either.  I was stumped by the desires of my heart.  Why was it that when I had a perfect opportunity to just be present with my family, I didn’t want to?

Frankly, I wanted to be alone.  I wanted to do my own thing, even though I didn’t have anything to do in particular.

The feeling worried me quite a bit.  If I couldn’t find happiness here, when could I ever expect to find it?  My mind recoiled at the thought that I’m most content with a project to complete or work to do; I dread being that guy who can’t relax on vacation or who won’t find contentment in retirement.  My belief system insists that I find happiness in the presence of my family, not in the tangible outcome or accomplishment of our time together.  That this didn’t happen automatically rattled me.

Coming to my senses, I went to our prayer space (a storage room over the garage with a high crucifix-to-wall-space proportion) and sat down to sort things out with Jesus.  Forty-five minutes later, I walked out with an answer in my mind and peace in my heart.

I’m pretty sure I fell asleep a few times, and I’m not going to apologize for it, but most of that time was spent in conversation.  Of course, I believe God knows everything and he doesn’t gain any insight from my reflection on the situation.  The purpose of talking through my current internal reality is to ensure that I understand what’s going on and so Jesus may point out observations I’d missed or flaws in my reasoning.  Plus, prayer is a conversation.  How boring would it be if all we did was sit silently because God already knows what we should be saying?

“I have the Holy Grail of Working Dads in my hands,” I prayed silently, “why aren’t I content with it?  Why don’t I want to use it?  What’s wrong with me?”

“Did you expect it to make you happy?” Jesus asked.

He almost always answers my questions with questions.  It can be so annoying!  

I didn’t reply right away.  On one hand, I knew better.  I knew that external situations don’t give contentment, peace, or happiness.  I just blogged on this not long ago!  On the other hand, it was clear that I expected free time and the presence of my wife and kids to bestow contentment upon me.  Oops!

“I guess so,” I eventually mentally mumbled.

“What are you afraid of?”

I spent the next ten or so minutes trying to get Jesus to focus on the problem at hand.  We were here to talk about why I wasn’t happy, not my fears!  However, between being omniscient and eternal, Jesus can be maddeningly stubborn.

“Fine!” I finally declared, rolling my eyes in pious adolescence, “let’s discuss what you want to talk about!”

A few minutes later, I knew what I was afraid of and everything else fell into place.  It turned out that a situation that I thought was completely unrelated was occupying my mind.  I had a decision to make from several options and I had invested much of my free time mentally chewing on this problem, weighing options, and generally spinning around without any progress.  

This mental anxiety had bled into my activity.  I had tried to calm myself by enforcing order in the world around me.  Watching movies and playing games with my family had felt like wasting time when there was a problem to solve.  It turns out my time wasn’t as free as I had thought!

I knew what to do next.

“Jesus, I’ve done all I can with this issue right now.  Please take it and my anxiety about it away.”

So, he did.

It’s not always that simple, of course.  Letting go of worry like this takes practice and constant vigilance lest we pick our anxiety up again.  But when I emerged from the cocoon of our prayer space I was different.  A sappy movie was still on and kids were basically where they were when I had disappeared, but I was ready to be with them where they were.  I settled in and cheered when the guy and gal finally kissed at the end of the show; just like they always do.

I still had a decision to make, but that decision was in its proper place and would be dealt with at the proper time.  I needed more information and knew where to get it.  In the meantime, I was free of its burden.

Chasing contentment is exhausting and fruitless when we overlook the root cause; internal anxiety.  Have you entrusted your cares and worries to Jesus so you can be freed of their weight?  If not, consider spending some time in prayer today and ask Jesus to show you how.  

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