Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Contentment Isn't Enough

Back when you asked me all your burnings questions, one of you asked, "If someone dropped $40k in your lap right this minute--what would you do with it? Can you justify going on vacation or do you easily talk yourself out of it because you could better spend that money feeding the hungry/housing the homeless, etc?"

Now THAT is a question.
In the 2 months since then, Cory and I have had 20 at least conversations about it. It's a fun one to ponder and I highly recommend it the next time your husband is relaxing on the couch with his nose in a book. :)

We've been all over the map. Family Vacation. Giving to missionaries. New camera lens (Cory). All of the throw pillows in all of the stores (Shannan). I daydreamed about replacing our towels and buying a good set of pans (the things that seem necessary after 15 years of marriage, but never seem to actually happen.) We'd like to finish the basement, and we tell ourselves we "need" to. (Another post for another day.) There's the despairing fact of our two troubled mini vans. And the looming threat of braces. And still, after all this time and all we've learned, there remains the pulsing instinct to "put it in savings".

Every time it came up, when the daydreams had thinned into the air around us and all that was left was the truth, we came back to this: We would pay off our house and immediately buy another one.

We'd buy something small and grubby, in our neighborhood. We'd doctor it up and figure out how to become landlords. And that's what we'd be. Against all logic, Dave Ramsey be danged.

If you'd asked that question two years ago, or even one, our answer would have been different.

But you can only sit around the table so many times with beautiful, broken people and watch the world close in on them before it starts to kill you a little. And isn't that the point of life? Aren't we suppose to lose ourselves?

We're in a season where God is making good on His promise to bring us a new community, and it's a community of brokenness and deep need. Patterns keep emerging, a never-ending rabbit trail, the curling loop of infinity.

It's the broken child who becomes the angry man who commits a crime who does the time who puts ink to all his pain who won't be hired who can't find a home who works for minimum wage who owes the system who doesn't see his kids who has no car who signs over his soul to a slumlord who is bled dry by greed who walks to work in the cold with a flame at his lips who wants to quit, wants to save, wants to dig out, wants to start fresh, wants to know God, wants to feel loved, wants to lock eyes with another human, wants to convince me his gang is full of "good people", wants to change, wants to move, wants to leave, wants to quit, wants to try try try. But can't.

Those blue eyes, they're so kind and he will never get out from under the system. Do we really want him to? Do we care?

We tell him to change, to prove it when he has, but would we even listen? Will his change ever look like enough to you and me?

Not when half his teeth are missing and "F**k the world" is scrawled across his forearm while our eight-year old sits with her bowl of soup, just two chairs down. Not when bed sheets covers his windows and he gets jittery when he needs a smoke. Not when he pays through the nose for a crap-hole because no one else will trust a felon. Not when nothing about him shows us he's moving up.

That's what we want. We want everyone to move up, to meet us where we are, but we keep climbing while they crawl and we know they'll never catch us. We kind of like it that way.

Do you want the secret to contentment? Break bread with someone who has nothing then watch their backs get smaller and disappear as they walk home on ice-covered streets wearing thin, zip-up hoodies. I dare you to go to bed that night and think about what you need. You'll fight sleep as you look around your cute, cozy bedroom. You'll swear you'd rip the fixtures from the ceiling and sell the duvet if you had to. Your cheeks will flame in the dark while you pretend your closet doesn't hold 12 pairs of shoes.

I've been so wrong, so long. This death is hard. It's painful.

People like to tell me it's okay to have nice things, or that it's wrong or prideful to get caught up in having less. I understand it. I feel some of those things, too. I don't think we're called to be monks or make our shoes from cardboard.

It makes us uncomfortable to consider choosing a life of lower means. We want our stuff so badly. I want it. I like it and I love it. It makes me happy, brings me joy, gives me something on which to hang a bit of my worth. My stuff defines me.

His does, too.

If I had this riddle all worked out I probably wouldn't be tapping these keys. We're learning to be more content, but I still have miles to go. All I have to do is look to the South, look to the North, and I'm schooled. It's in my face, and I still resist it every day. I find it impossible to reconcile the woman I am and the woman I'm meant to be.

It's not much, but here's what I know for sure about contentment: If you want more of it, stop only hanging around people who have as much as or more than you. Spend time with friends who tell you that every pay-day, they go to Goodwill and buy a dish or a pan or a sweater because a few months ago, they were evicted again, lost everything, and had to start over from scratch.

Here's one more thing: If you do this, you will never be truly content. Your wanting might mellow a bit, but it'll be replaced with the hot burn of injustice at point-blank range and you'll begin to believe it is your job to right some wrong things. You'll find it impossible to watch humans around you - humans you love - suffer.

The truth is, if $40,000 dollars fell into my lap, we'd take these kids of ours on a simple vacation.  As sure as I'm sitting here, we'd make an unnecessary trip to Target and eat somewhere nice without that fluttery feeling in our gut. And then we'd find that little cottage and believe that it could change something for someone.

I guess I'm some kind of a holy roller this morning. I'm here running the aisles because I'm tired of sitting still. I'm spitting into the mic, crashing the cymbal, begging you to believe we were given this job, to find these people and love them straight to the cross. Let's not be content with contentment. Let's believe it's our high honor to give a rip.

We can support them in meaningful ways and love them to the feet of Jesus. From there, the rest of the work is His. We can do this, friends. We can do the job we were given - a tangible job, nothing theoretical or hypothetical about it. We can actually do actual things for His kingdom here on earth. Today.

We can decide to never be the same again.

"Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone." 1 Thess. 5:14