If you are anything like me, there is a great tyranny that threatens your ability to be content. The tyranny of more. No matter where we are in life, we tend to believe that happily-ever-after is just around the next bend. If I can just pass this class, graduate, get a job. If I could just find a girlfriend or boyfriend, get a raise, get married, or conceive a child. If I could just be famous, rich, or pretty.
As soon as we reach a milestone, we almost immediately start to take it for granted. And start chasing more.
There is a pretty amazing verse in The Bible, where the apostle Paul says, “I have learned how to be content in every circumstance”. What an audacious claim! What an amazing proposition!
Our contentment tends to feel as if it is bound by circumstance. It is elusive because the circumstance we want is just around the corner. When we make that turn and reach that circumstance, the search will finally be over.
The Middle of The Story
I think one of the reasons we struggle with this tyranny is because of the way we tell stories. Our entire society does this, but the church, I believe, is especially complicit.
We tend to tell complete stories. Ones in which we struggled, learned, and found an answer. We got what we prayed for. We defeated the issue we were facing. Which is all well and good, except for two things. First, most people (including the people giving these testimonies!) are currently in the middle of a story. They hear these neatly wrapped up tales and start to think that is the key. The other issue is that we conveniently leave out that the end of one part of our story is just the beginning of the next. Graduation leads to job hunting. Getting a job leads to navigating a career. Getting married leads to having to work on a marriage (most marriages in America end in divorce because getting married is much more appealing to us than being married).
We are all in the middle of a story. Forever and always. Time on this earth is one circumstance after another. One struggle after another. Obstacles, triumphs, hope, and despair weave in and out of one another like a braid. They don’t occur in a single file line.
This might, at first glance, feel like bad news. “You’re always going to struggle” is not quite the answer we are looking for. But in it lies the key to truth and, paradoxically, hope.
Enough is Enough
My absolute favorite movie quote of all time comes from the film Cool Runnings, based on the story of the Jamaican bobsled team. One of the side character arcs is about their disgraced American coach, who was caught cheating in a previous Olympics and stripped of the gold medals he had won.
The Jamaican captain says, “I don’t understand. Why did you cheat. You had it all. A gold medal!”
The coach says, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you will never be enough with it”.
We get so caught up in the tyranny of more, thinking we will be enough, if…and If…and IF. But the key to being enough is in stewarding our character, making our choices with courage. It is not the absence of pain or the alignment of circumstances that proves our worth. It is in how we struggle, how we wait, and how we succeed.
If we are not enough without marriage, we won’t be enough in it. We will take that feeling of inadequacy into our relationship. Marriage is not a cure. Neither is getting a raise or graduating college. These are things that happen along the way. But the story of your life is the person you are. The choices you make. The character you display. It is an incomplete story, a work in progress.