Life and FaithTheology & Spirituality

Wintering Others’ Discontent

Dusk is falling all around me, silently painting green leaves a crisp black silhouette against a living grey sky. A planet blinks open its eye, peering at me sitting here in the gathering darkness—alone. Winding down the day with a London Fog, staring at the sky all by one’s self may not be ideal for many; yet for me, this is my favourite part of the day. It is cool and quiet, a time of reflection and being.

In the comforting twilight, hiding me from prying eyes—save that of the aforementioned planet—I have time to mull over the conversation I had with a friend recently. He had asked if I was happy where I am, as so many of my friends are transitioning into relationships, moving away from the ministry where I work, or going on adventures. Owl-like, I blinked at the question. Had I given the impression that I was unhappy or dissatisfied with life? No, he simply thought it must get wearing to always be the one plugging along while things happened to everyone else. What did I want more than this ‘provincial life?’ he questioned.

Should I want something more than enjoying the work of my hands, the leisure I have, the family and friends I have been given, or the home in which I live? Spiritually I want so much more—more holiness, more discipline, more love, more of Jesus. Yet physically and emotionally I am content. Content, not complacent, mind you. My relationships have their ups and downs, there are days I want to run away and get lost in the woods not to find my way out again until starlight—but I still love my life.

Why are people so constantly nagging me to move on, move forward, or to move away? On to what? Away where? What do they think I should be chasing, if not a contented life? What if I like to listen to the footfalls of rain on the leaves or to sit in silence on my front porch? What if I don’t want to have someone waiting for me when I get home from my day? I am thankful to come home to a dark, quiet house, ready for me to fill it with soft lights and stillness, or sometimes my friends and family.

Curiosity that must restrain itself from becoming bitterness wells up in me, why do others want to foist their discontentment upon me? I struggle to maintain balance and to have enough solitude in my days and weeks, but my frustration at my lack of discipline does not mean I don’t like my job. I might not like how much time it takes away from my mornings, but I like the work that I do. It lies on me to rise earlier so I have more morning to enjoy before tromping to my little mail room. Sometimes I overcommit my evenings, then feel drained or harried because I have not recharged in quiet thanksgiving to the Maker of the stars—but that doesn’t mean I need to run off to a new place. I am my own worst enemy—my lack of managing the time I am given frustrates me deeply—but finding a new position at work, moving, or getting married will not fix that. Any of those things would simply sap my time and provide me with a score of more stressful considerations. I must learn discipline and rhythm here and now before I can implement it at any other point in the future.

When I see the source of my frustration—my own failing at discipline—I puzzle over the discontent others have for me. Why hasn’t someone snatched you up and married you? they want to know. Maybe because I haven’t let them. I enjoy being single, why do I need to pursue something I don’t have if I am content with what I do have?

Why don’t you try to move up into a different position at work or find a different job? I hear often. Why should I seek a job I’m not suited for—or wouldn’t like—when I enjoy the one I have now? More money and benefits are not always worth the mental or emotional strain certain positions bring. I can leave work at work—I can come home without it weighing on my soul. Peace of mind and a flexible schedule that allows me to spend time with those I love are more valuable than the prestige of a bigger title (and the stress such a title brings).

What are you going to do next? someone is always wondering. Live life each day. What are you doing now? I wonder internally.

Don’t you want to change the world or go on adventures? That, at least, is a sensible question. I want to influence my sphere of friends and acquaintances with the love and light of Jesus. I want to be hospitable and gracious. I seek to be faithful with the gifts I have been given, whether it is my home, time, words, or material goods. I may not be serving meals to the homeless, but I try to open my front door to my neighbours. Who defines adventures? Does hiking in uncharted snow for miles and seeing an avalanche count? Does scaling a fourteener make the list? How about travelling all over the country because I have friends to visit? And what about the adventures that happen on my front porch? From chasing away black bears to chatting with skunks and squirrels, or watching magnificent lightning storms. I think I have a pretty interesting life.

Maybe I am too easily satisfied. Perhaps the discontentment I hear in the comments others make ought to spur me toward bigger goals, but it does not. I am not inclined to be discontented with life. Many have been conditioned by culture to think there is only one way to be content or successful—whether that is always manoeuvring one’s way up in the working world, or getting married, or doing new things, or being constantly busy. If those are the things that make one content, why is it that the friends I know who are chasing those goals are so often miserable and dissatisfied?

I take risks, have friends, go on adventures, enjoy coming home to quiet, and get to sit under a starry sky alone with the night and its Creator. And I like it. The hardest parts of my life are things I inflict upon myself—namely, lack of discipline and love—and the pall of malcontentedness others seem to cast on me in their search for a good and meaningful life. The winter of others’ discontent is made glorious by the Son of God—in realising that he does not leave us in the squalor of our sin; in giving thanks for that which is good, even if it is hard. These things bring us to Jesus, shaving off our selves and allowing his likeness to be seen in us.

It can be difficult to meet the discontentment others pour on us with the warmth of the Son’s joy. Yet joy is a choice—often in the face of hard, unpleasant, or uncontrollable circumstances. Joy is a choice—even when our fellow Christians are not choosing it, we should. We are free in Jesus to choose to be content in the good we have, rather than to be discontented over what we have not.

Are you a person who freezes others with your discontentment about their life’s progress? How can you choose to encourage them where they are instead? Perhaps you are like me, prone to get bitter when someone asks me yet again why I have not moved up the corporate ladder or why I am not married. What do we need to do in order to halt frosty replies with genuinely warm contentment? Most often the answer for me is very simple—though hard to practise: to choose to hold my tongue, to pray for kindness, and to enjoy where I am, even if it confuses others. Now then, this evening, I’m going to enjoy nightfall, cricket songs, and the blesséd silence the slower-by-choice single life permits.

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna Byrkett

Johanna (Jody) Byrkett enjoys hiking various types of terrain, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has the singularly annoying habit of spelling things 'Britishly'.)

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