Day 11: Elusive Contentment / by Jeff Tacklind

Yesterday was such a good day.  The sermon, especially the first service, though rushed, felt like my true voice.  I have been chasing after it for years, like Peter Pan after his shadow.  The next time I find it, I should probably sew it on.

Afterwards was a reunion for the recently returned students from our Guatemala missions trip.  So much joy!  So much to celebrate seeing how the students’ lives and hearts were enriched, laid bare, and filled with such passion.

And then we had an evening Lenten service.  I was a bit frantic during the set up, and many arrived late due to horrendous traffic, but it all came together and was so beautiful.  These evening contemplative services have become my favorites.  It felt sacred.

At the end of a day like this I’m longing for my chair.  We have a big leather recliner that is well broken in.  Throughout the day I’m looking forward to that moment when all the tasks are finished, all the conversations completed, and I can make a cup of tea, grab something to read, and lean back.  That is my vision of heaven.

I guess this does actually happen from time to time, but not last night.  Last night I was irritable, and I have no idea why.  Maybe it was jetlag over the time change.  At bed time, everyone just kept ignoring my requests to get ready for bed.  They each just sat there, scrolling through their phone, strumming guitar, slowly turning the pages of their book.  “Yeah, one second dad.”

I got annoyed...then frustrated...then angry.  By the time I finally got them in bed and sat back in my chair, I was fuming.  So much for my relaxing evening!

As I reflect on it now, I guess I thought I had earned something that was being withheld.  After such a long day, this moment of quiet was mine by rights.  This was my time to savor the day.  What angered me was their complete lack of consideration.

But as I write, I’m realizing that it might be even deeper than that.  I think I have an expectation on life itself that it cannot live up to.  This feeling of disappointment is too familiar.  What irritates me most is my inability to control my environment.  I can never make the moments live up to my expectations.

What I long for most in life is contentment. Peace.  This might simply be the introvert in me talking.  I know others are more ambitious or pleasure seeking.  They are driven by the thrills or experiences.  But for me it is always a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that I’m longing for.

And rarely ever find.  Because nothing in this world ever seems to truly satisfy.  The anticipation is always larger than the actual experience itself.  Nothing tastes quite as good as you remember it tasting.  No victory is lasting.  Every goal turns out to be just another rung on the ladder.

So what to do?  Of course, there is always the midlife crisis.  Basically start over, new car, new girl, new career, new whatever.  We’ve all seen that painful cliché over and over again.

Or resignation.  Herman Hesse was recently featured on the blog Brainpickings and was quoted as saying, “I would simply like to reclaim an old and, alas, quite unfashionable private formula: Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment. And: Do not overlook the little joys!”

I like that a lot.  There is so much wisdom in seeing the little gifts, the small moments of pleasure.  But, while that is helpful, it doesn’t seem to cut deep enough.  What do I do when the simple joys are present but my emotions are in turmoil?  What do I do when my needs are met, when all is well, and my heart tells me something is still missing?

I’ve been reading a Lenten devotional with excerpts from C.S. Lewis. (Shocking, I know) This morning’s was on hope.  I’ve read this passage a million times, but today, it spoke right to a new and tender place. 

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

So I’m sitting with that today.  Accepting the restlessness as part of the journey.  Reminding myself that, in this Lenten season, we are not to despair, but to continue moving forward, towards resurrection and the hope of all things being made new.  In the spirit of Lewis’s words, to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  He has helped do this today, and I hope it has helped you too.