We’d been back from Disney World for less than a day when my daughter started asking to go back. My husband I felt like we should have been reveling in her appreciation that she had gotten to go at all, but instead we were tormented with her whining about doing it again. That’s how kids are, right? We see that same tendency on their birthdays and Christmas and any other gift-giving occasion, and sometimes we – the adults who love them – are lucky enough to witness the same reaction when it comes to vacations and experiences we’ve planned and enjoyed as a family.
It’s maddening, really.
It became even more maddening for me recently when I realized that I do the same thing….with shoes.
For far longer than I’m proud to admit, I
coveted obsessed over dreamed of wanted a pair of Converse All Star tennis shoes. You know the ones: white rubber toe and huge white laces criss-crossing across the top. Y’all, I loved those shoes, and every time I was even near a shoe store I made my way to the sneaker aisle to admire the colorful assortment of shoes. I picked out what color I wanted, many times, and contemplated ignoring our budget and buying them. I told my daughter which ones I wanted, should she or my husband *just happen* to want to buy me a pair.
I wanted those shoes in a bad way.
And for my birthday, my sweet mother-in-law heard my cries (via my husband, who no doubt shook his head and shrugged as he told her of my obsession). She gave me the money – the exact amount, I happened to know – to go and buy the shoes.
I was just like a kid on Christmas. I was so excited I could hardly think straight. I grabbed the color I wanted – a nice neutral light gray – and bounced (literally, I’m afraid) out to my car to put them on.
I’m not kidding. For the next two weeks, at least, I laced up those shoes with the million loops and strutted everywhere I went. I finally had the shoes that I had wanted for so long.
I was excited and thankful and happy, but then something happened. My birthday is at the end of August, so within a couple of weeks of buying my beloved shoes, stores began preparing for fall. And with that….
Boots, y’all. The footwear that heralds the arrival of my favorite season and so perfectly coordinates with my multitude of scarves. They stared me down from their lofty perches on Target’s shelves every time I went in. Before long, a pair appeared that would not be ignored.
Gray ones, in just the texture of faux leather that makes them look worn but not tired…cute but not too casual…dark enough to go with everything but light enough to not be confused for black. *sigh*
I’m still swooning. They’re beautiful.
But here’s the thing. I can’t bring myself to buy them, because those boots – as beautiful as they are – are a glaring reminder of a very ugly part of my heart: that part of my heart that can never be satisfied.
No matter what I get or how much I have, it’s never enough. I’m usually happy with what I have for a time…but something always comes along to usurp that happiness and replace it with dissatisfaction. If it’s not boots, it’s something else, and with Thanksgiving approaching I’ve had an extra helping of guilt heaped onto my plate.
Why can’t I just be grateful for what I have? I know how fortunate I am, but why don’t I feel overwhelmingly thankful?
Here’s my theory: I’m not content with what I have, so gratitude never has a chance to grow. It’s quickly pushed out by the weeds of covetousness.
And y’all? I don’t think it’s just me. We are a hunting and gathering society: we hunt for what we want, and gather more and more of it. For 364 days of the year, we’re bombarded with the idea that we need this thing and that thing in order to be fulfilled, but then – on one random Thursday in November – we’re expected to stop the march of materialism and be thankful.
It’s not really even a whole day, because the sales papers delivered to our houses continue the steady drumbeat to which we march the rest of the year. I love this quote:
Black Friday: Because only in America, people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.
As a society, we definitely have a problem, but we’ll never be able to fix it until we know why we have it. Until we know why we’re discontented, we’ll never be able to uproot those weeds and stop the merciless march for more.
We tend to think of this issue as an indictment on American culture, but I think the problem is really as old as human history. Consider Adam and Eve, the very first newlywed couple in the luxurious paradise of Eden. They lacked nothing they needed and had nothing of the chaos of modern life. They had no jobs to go to…no savings accounts to manage…no school fundraisers or PTO meetings or doctor’s appointments. Best of all, they lived in perfect, unhindered fellowship with God.
They were literally living the life that they were designed to live. It was perfect.
But something happened.
Their enemy – our enemy – approached and, in just a few whispered words, gave Adam and Eve the idea and the permission to be discontented with all that God had given them. He hinted that maybe God was holding out on them. He suggested that maybe God didn’t know or want what was best for them. He planted the seed of discontent in their – and our – hearts.
He asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?…You won’t die! God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1,4-5)
They had so much, but instead of drawing their attention to all of that, he pointed out the one thing God hadn’t let them have. Tempted by something just out of their reach, they take their eyes off God and take the bait.
They ate the fruit, but it wasn’t all it was cut out to be. They lost the one thing they really needed: their perfect unity with God. They set all of humanity on an endless quest for contentment.
We have an inheritance of discontentment. It’s in our genes.
So I think being grateful is hard because we always believe there is something more. We can’t see what we already have because our eyes are locked in on what we lack.
Discontentment is our nature, so contentment is unnatural. Do you feel the tension? You’re not the only one.
See, friend, Satan planted the seed of discontent in the Garden, and we are still reaping the harvest of what he sowed. He is still doing the exact same thing with us today. Why? Because it works. The struggle is real.
Do I need to remind you of my shoe issue? Why else would something so trivial be such an issue for me? Or why else would I sit in my beautiful, perfect-for-me family room watching HGTV…and start thinking about all the ways I need to change my house?
Why else would I sit in car line and feel insecure about my perfectly fine fourteen-year-old Chevy just because I’m surround by new, swanky SUVs?
Why else would I come to church in my favorite outfit, only to look around and feel like everyone else is dressed better than I am?
(And as a side note, you’ll notice that the first thing Eve did after she ate the apple was decide she needed a new outfit. I can just hear her telling Adam, “I have nothing to wear!”)
We are discontent by nature because our enemy wants us to be that way. He wants us chasing after all the things that he knows will only leave us feeling emptier.
But friend, there is hope. There is hope for all of us who are constantly seeking the next thing to hopefully fill that void. There is hope for all of us who are never happy with what we have. There is hope for all of us who are striving for contentment.
Look at the apostle Paul. He definitely wasn’t buried in Thanksgiving Day sales papers or envying his neighbor’s new car, but he knew a thing or two about constantly striving and seeking. Paul had been a legalistic Pharisee, trying to do all the right things and say all the right things to fit in with the religious crowd. He had his focus on rules…image…what people and God thought of him.
But then something changed.
When Paul encountered Jesus, everything changed. He realized that everything he had worked so hard for and chased after was worthless. It was never going to satisfy him, and there would always have been something else to lure him away from contentment.
That realization came for Paul because he realized that in Jesus, he had the one thing he really needed.
Following Jesus cost Paul everything. He was beaten….persecuted….imprisoned, and but was still able to say this:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. (Philippians 4:11-12)
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
In Jesus, Paul was finally content. And in Jesus, we can be, too.
So the striving and chasing and desperate discontent ends here.
Because when we look to Jesus, we finally find what we’ve been looking for. We can be content, and we can finally be grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. May we be a little more content and truly thankful.