The Penang Road Trip provided ample time for reflections of the heart and spirit. I savoured this book on Satisfied by Jeff Manion. It was a timely reminder of the state of things around me – my Physical and Spiritual home.
I suspected it. As I began to look out for more ways and things (despite them being cheap), on how to make my activities with the kids more ‘interactive’, more ‘educational’, I was falling into the pithole of discontentment. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m doing with the kids, art and all the hands on stuffs, just that it seems to be driving me to the road of accumulating more and more stuffs! In the name of ‘education’, I would comfort myself that it’s worth the money to spend even if the item costs only $2 from Daiso. Well, $2 became $40 worth of stuffs that eats into my budget and occupied another shelf…. This is worsened by my recycling habit of being a Karang Guni. Not to mention, books. Books no enough! You see, in my pursuit of a better education, a better playtime, a better hands on activity, I lose the better part of being contented.
I wonder at these incredible verses that speaks of Paul’s ability to be contented despite grueling hardships.(see 2 Corinthians 11: 23-27 for Paul’s hardships) 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. ‘ Philipians 4: 11.
I thought to myself, to be lacking, one would feel discontentment, but why do we need to learn to be content when well fed? I got my answer during my delectable spread of buffet breakfast over our hotel stay. Day 1– OOOhhhh! AHhh! SO delicious! Everything must try!Day 2– Head straight for the yummy stuffs. Day 3– nice, will just settle for these few. Day4– where did all my excitement go to? I just take my usual selections. Nothing new. Ok, So I realised that humans just have to LEARN how to be content on a daily basis no matter what type of situation/background you are in.
Which brings me to Jeff’s book
He wrote ‘Contentment is the cultivation of a satisfied heart. It is the discipline of being fully alive to God and to others whatever our material circumstances. Contentment is not achieved through getting everything we want but by training the heart to experience full joy and deep peace even when we don’t have what we want.’
He succinctly translates Paul’s exhortation to Timothy his disciple ‘ Timothy, do not become obsessed with gathering things around yourself that you cannot keep.’
” For we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:7)
The key for me is not to be obsessed over the ‘I must get this’ attitude in order for me to become happier or ‘better’. If you followed my posts on Come Play with me series, I was very intrigued by Kate and Racheous’ style of learning and educating through play. They are wonderful, nontheless, I ask myself, do i have the capacity to get even some of those stuffs they have? Do I need to get them in the first place?
I got pretty upset when I found out the cost of the Ikea mirrors weren’t within my budget. I wanted the kids to have a more meaningful play set up for them to see the different dimensions of things while they play. And I finally got them in Daiso cheaply but of course smaller in dimensions which would lose the grandiosity of the Ikea ones. Nevertheless, I was gratified. But somehow an alert bell rang in me as I reconsidered my actions. Why the fuss? What’s the big deal if I don’t get those mirrors?? Will my kids suffer the lack of it? We know the answers to these rhetoric questions….
It was there and then, I confessed my sin of coveting and comparing with my neighbour. I was looking at another person’s bowl.
Jeff wittily illustrated his point with a bowl. ‘ What’s in your bowl? Not the bowl of the family living down the street (in my case it’s the bowl of another blogger) or the coworker in the cubicle down the aisle. Not the bowls of friends in church. Not your sister in law’s bowl, and for goodness sake, not the bowls of the well dressed, wrinkle free models who grace the advertising pages of magazines- these perfect people are fiction. What’s in YOUR bowl?’
I was bowled over.
He gave another example of how a dad gave ONE scoop of ice cream to each of his two sons and there was harmony. When he decided to give ONE scoop to the eldest and TWO scoops of ice cream to younger brother, war erupted. Not fair! why does lil brother have TWO scoops? The eldest wasn’t complaining about what he had. He was complaining about what he doesn’t have when he looked into another’s bowl.
Comparison. ‘Comparison rarely enjoys what one has and, consequently, obsess over what one lacks….. comparison robs you of gratitude and contentment…. massacres joy.’
He then used another illustration of the conflict in the vineyard in Matthew Chapter 20. it was another classic case of looking at another’s bowl instead of the fairly agreed portion. I like his observation ‘ We are prone to lose balance, not because we have received less than we deserve but because someone near us has received more than we think they deserve, The wounded voice of comparison demands, ” Why them and not me?”
Seed of Envy at work.
Or it could be the other way round I think, when calamity strikes we lament, ” Why me and not them?”
What’s in my bowl? I took stock. Gave thanks and made a decision to look beyond my family to actively look out for others in need. Jeff gave more candid illustrations and he ended the book with a note of hope in being secure in our identity in Christ instead of things/reputation/actvities etc. Stuffs do not define us. We bring our identity to stuffs around us, not the other way round. I was also reminded that this blog does not define or represent me. I bring my identity to this blog, not the other way round.
It is an arduous journey to travel the road of contentment. And it is a lifetime of learning. But it can be done in our first world lifestyle by not forgetting the LORD our God. (Dueteronomy 8:10-14, 17-18) I need to go back to basics again and again. As I attempt to declutter the stuffs in my house and control my spending, I also need to declutter the spiritual home of my heart to spruce up the room for the Lord to occupy and reside comfortably.
As the hymn goes
The things that I love and hold dear to my heart
Are just borrowed, they’re not mine at all
Jesus only let me use them to brighten my life
So remind me, remind me dear Lord.
Roll back the curtains of memory now and then
Tell us where you brought us from
And where I should have been
Remember, I’m human, and human forget,
So remind me, remind me dear Lord.