Archive for category gratitude
As a boy I remember sitting in the car hoping that my favorite song would come on the radio. Having just begun to care about music I couldn’t wait to hear the song that caught my ear. Every other song that played filled me with hope that we must be getting closer to my song.
Then I discovered that it was possible to buy the record and have the ability to play my song at home whenever I wanted. But the record was filled with other songs that I really didn’t want and I dreamt about some machine at the record store where you could buy just the songs that you wanted.
When Dreams Come True
It was dreams like this that have given rise to iTunes and personal listening devices to orchestrate the sound track of our lives. (For the record I didn’t invent iTunes or get any royalties from my boyhood vision.) Now we can have exactly what we want: the perfect song at the perfect moment. Even in a car full of people listening to “Fireflies” for the thousandth time, we can satisfy our desire to hear that plaintive 10,000 Maniacs song that speaks to the moment.
The technological advances of our time are incredible and the abilities that we have been give to personally shape our world, or at least our experience of it, is unparalleled. We have been given amazing power to manicure our lives through the abundance of choice.
Is This the Good Life?
It would seem that the logical end to this reality would be greater contentment and enjoyment of what is, yet I wonder if we haven’t inadvertently begun to focus on what is not. The incredible array of choice gives us the thought that each moment, each meal, could be better, resulting in an epidemic of discontentment.
It was not that long ago that merely going out to dinner was a treat. Now with the amazing panorama of cuisine at our disposal and the steady supply of cooking shows that inform us of what is “spot on,” we seem to be less satisfied with what once was considered a great meal. I know that there are times that I finish a good meal and think, but the red sauce at the other restaurant is better.
Why Do We Seem Discontented?
The challenge of the culture of choice is that we are wooed into a sense that we can shape every moment and meal into perfection. With our idealized perfection in mind it is not surprising that we feel disappointment and discontentment when things don’t meet these lofty expectations.
This modern malaise is problematic not only for moments and meals, but in relationships and our work. When we apply our “perfected ideal” to others there is no room for another person to be the real them and little room for healthy relationships. Occupational discontentment is exacerbated by the perpetual thought that the grass is greener—lavishly greener—elsewhere.
I am not saying that these technological advances or choices are bad. Like all of creation, they are good. But we need to continue to beware how we let this culture of choice shape us. The first step toward contentment is our awareness of how the abundance of choice impacts us. Do we merely live in the plethora of options or do we being to expect the world to conform to our expectations?
The second step is intentionally focusing on being content. In Philippians 4:11 Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” This verse encourages us as contentment can be learned. We can practice fighting our selfish temptation to shape each moment and letting the music play. We can train ourselves again to enjoy the blessings of what is and not focus on what is not. We can enjoy the freedom of a good baked potato merely being good.
Part of the cultural crisis of character is the wide spread lack of contentment. May we discover both, the goodness of abundant choice and the richness of contentment.
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How Perceived Obligations Get in the Way
We tend to get fussy when we think that someone owes us something and then doesn’t come through. We feel cheated, hardly-done-by, perhaps even hurt. Often, though, these kinds of “obligations” are internal; that is, they weren’t agreed to or even discussed with the other person. We just, well, created them ourselves.
A husband expects his wife to take on certain responsibilities. But she doesn’t. He becomes upset when the “thing,” whatever it is, isn’t done. The problem is, he hasn’t discussed it with her, hasn’t asked her what she thinks. Maybe the “thing” he expects isn’t something she wants to do, or maybe she simply doesn’t see it as something that must be done. Either way, he’s upset, annoyed. Tension builds between them.
What’s the source of his irritation? An internal deal or contract he created, all by himself. How often do we imagine that someone owes us something only to be upset or stressed out when they don’t come through?
The Source of a Lot of Trouble
The truth is, people usually don’t owe us anything (unless you have a contract that all parties involved understand and agree to). Parents don’t owe their children Disney World or a car (new or used) or a particular vacation or set of clothes . . . the list goes on. Parents can give their children those extras, but out of love and grace, not obligation.
The person at the grocery store doesn’t owe us a “cut-in” because we have 2 items and they have 20. They can let us jump ahead out of kindness, but they’re not obliged to do it. Adult children don’t owe their parents a phone call each week, but if the kids choose to call, it’s out of grace (who wants someone to talk to them strictly out of guilt or obligation, anyway).
A Caring and Free Life
We’re not talking about neglecting to love others or living a selfish life. But we are saying that one of the most difficult lessons in character formation is to realize that no one owes us anything.
When we get this, we increase our peace. We don’t get fussy with people or live with inner stress because someone “should have” done this or that for us. Instead, when the kids call or when someone does something nice for us, we realize that they didn’t have to do it–and we’re grateful. If they don’t do it, that’s OK too. They didn’t owes us to begin with.
A grateful heart is a heart at peace with God, itself, and others.
Can you think of a time when you became angry or upset because someone didn’t come through? Were they really obligated to do what you wanted, or was it something you created in your own mind?
What are your thoughts on obligations?
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