Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Comparing Versus Contentment

I work with a local mentoring initiative. Recently, one of our mentors was discussing a situation where his "little brother" was acting out. The mentor turned to the community of mentors in his church for advice on how he might best support this youth in crisis. A fellow mentor told him that he recently heard a youth pastor say that as soon as boys hit puberty, they begin to wrestle with the questions of "Am I enough? Do I have what it takes?" And when they're struggling to believe whether or not they do, in fact, have what it takes, they can act out or rage against a system they're simply not equipped to navigate through. As I considered the conversation, I wondered whether we ever really let go of that question. Aren't we always to some degree wrestling with the question of being enough, producing enough or offering enough? We often talk of contentment in terms of being satisfied with our level of material possession, but isn't contentment a deeper fundamental question of identity and acceptance of our whole selves and our complex layers of strengths and weaknesses? 

My faith points me to believe that my truest reflection of who I am is that of God's beloved, His masterpiece, created anew to do good things (Eph 2:10). This gives me both identity and purpose. According to the Mayo Clinic, identity and purpose are key components of cultivating happiness, aka finding contentment. Yet, I can still struggle with the question of being enough. I measure myself and compare to others. As Brene Brown says, I allow the gremlins in my head to tell me I should hide in shame instead of showing up to the challenges of life. As a side gig, I write. And then I read Donald Miller, Ann Voskamp, Malcolm Gladwell or others and the gremlins in my head scoff at my feeble prose. They snicker, "These people are writers and gifted beyond measure. You? You babble out barely coherent thoughts on the keyboard and hope someone besides your wife offers it a thumbs up. And, beyond that, these writers - they're probably all nice, peaceful, kind folks - all Canadian-like, opposite the moody skeptic that you are." To be sure, these lies are drifting, swept through my thoughts and replaced with Truth. Yet, the gremlins can be heard whispering in the background whether it's in the Board room, basketball court or church pew.  Typically, they're easily ignored though self-doubt and comparison are formidable opponents that even the most confident of us tangle with on any given day.

As men, we valiantly battle the invaders of self-doubt and comparison by pushing them back with a consuming drive or drowning them with food and the drink. We push toward perfectionism and an ambiguous goal of success. As we find this unattainable, the invaders wear us down to retreat in apathy or erode us with acidic desire to win at any cost. Too often we miss the art of this war found in contentment with our identity - being comfortable in our own skin.

 Comparison is the arch-nemesis of contentment. It's when we want more - more things, more status, more power, more position, more fame, more beauty, more grace, more talent than our neighbor - that comparison sinks deep roots into our hearts and poisons our souls. 

Hal Young wrote, "Recently I read an article by a professor at Liberty University... One phrase leaped out at me: she spoke of learning 'to luxuriate in the quotidian.' In other words, we discover satisfaction, and really, delight, in the everyday duties and responsibilities of marriage and family. I never expected that, but I’ve found it to be true. And that is an idea I hope I communicate to my sons—sure, dream, aspire, work hard for noble and ambitious goals, but realize that at the end of the day, there is a treasury of happiness in the simple and profound calling of husband, father and householder." This is contentment and embracing our identity. Mayo Clinic's list of ways to be happy include: devoting time to family and friends, appreciating what [you] have, maintaining an optimistic outlook, feeling a sense of purpose [and] living in the moment. In fact, the title of the article that outlines this is called "How to be Happy: Tips for Cultivating Contentment." Happiness and contentment, they're one in the same. To "luxuriate in the quotidian" exemplifies this. 

 And contentment and happiness ultimately circle back to identity. The troubled youth working with the mentor likely has no solid answers to the internal question of whether he is enough, or whether he has what it takes. He has no father around to tell him this, to affirm his potential. He knows no other way to express this fear-infused void in his soul other than to rage against the machine. Luckily, he has a mentor who can speak into his life and tell him that he is worth something. He has a mentor who can help him believe that he is of value, he has what it takes and he is enough. He has a mentor who can illuminate the truth that he's masterpiece with a higher calling.

Finding contentment and identity is a journey. A colleague told me that we won't believe anything until we search for it. As we search for contentment, we find it as we uncover the foundations of our identity and discover happiness. Look for ways to mentor and be mentored as we seek and as we find (Jer. 29:13).

 For more information about mentoring, visit

For more information about the fatherless epidemic, read Fatherless Generation, by John Sowers.

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