I have a vivid memory of one morning during seminary. It was during the summer, when I was working in an office. That meant I was answering phones, stuffing envelopes, making copies, that sort of thing. It was a good job, with good co-workers, and one that I enjoyed. It was the summer I was finally confident enough that I was being called to ministry to move forward with the ordination process. Things were good, really good, and mostly when I think of this summer I remember working, and going for walks, and other good things.
But then there was this one morning. I was at my desk, same as always, and a fellow student came to the desk. We started talking; and she was telling me about her own journey through the ordination process–she was further along than I was–and how she was going to visit her family that weekend, and about her own summer job and classes for the next term. And I just got so, incredibly jealous of her. I wanted what she had: I wanted to be further along the ordination process, and I wanted my family to be close by, and I wanted her cool way of dressing and the way she seemed so settled into Pittsburgh and man, I was just so jealous. I wanted everything that she had; I wanted it so much that it was hard to focus when she left.
And I remember this so vividly because I was so jealous. Most of the time, I’m happy for other people when they receive good things, and I’m happy with what I have. But that day I was tired. I was missing my family; I was worried about my ordination process, and therefore my future. I was feeling lonely, and absolutely convinced that I wasn’t enough. And so, man, did I want everything this fellow student had, or seemed to have.
So often when we are discontented in some way–when what we have doesn’t feel like enough, when we want more, when things feel suddenly empty or pointless–it’s not really about the stuff. It’s not really about our life circumstances. It’s about us. It’s about the ways that we feel like we’re not enough; it’s about how sad or angry or confused we feel. It’s about that life circumstance we refuse to deal with. It’s about us.
And so instead of facing it, we try to ignore it and salve it in other ways. We wish we had what that other person over there has, or we blame them for all of our problems. We try to feel better by buying every cool thing we see, or eating that tub of ice cream, or doing whatever it takes to get the attention we crave. We take it out on other people and yell about nothing. There are all sorts of ways that we try to fill that emptiness or prove that we are lovable or do whatever else we think will solve our problem.
But it doesn’t work. It never works. It may provide relief in the moment. It may make you feel better, or forget, or feel powerful in that one moment, but afterwards you’re still the same angry or sad person who has the same problems to face.
But more than that, God invites us to live a different way. God invites us to contentment–not in some sappy greeting card way, but a deep contentment. That kind of contentment knows shopping or shouting or whatever else won’t fix your problems; it knows that you have enough; it knows that God loves you. It knows there is enough to give away, and that other people are worth being generous for.
The Heidelberg Catechism, one of the foundational documents for the beliefs of the Presbyterian Church (USA) says that “Idolatry is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God” (The Book of Confessions 4.094). That is, idolatry is any time that we put our deepest trust and hope in anything that isn’t God. And when we search for contentment outside of God, that’s what we’re doing. We’re saying, intentionally or not, that new power tools or a new relationship or one more chocolate will make us content and whole, when only God can give us that.
Again, though, God wants more for us. We are not called to contentment just so that we can be happy about ourselves and our lives. Contentment is not just for ourselves. Contentment frees up all that energy we were using to be jealous or worried so that we can better love the people around us, and that’s what so many of our readings for this morning were about. We are called to do good and love the people around us. As Paul wrote, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
And so let us go, content with what we have. Let us go, trusting in God. Let us go and love the people around us in every way we can.
Alleluia, and Amen.