March 10, 2011

Defining Discontent

They say the most powerful concepts a writer can portray are found in personal experiences. For those of you who follow my column on a regular basis, you know that I love to employ anecdotes—both real and fictitious—to make my point come alive. Whenever I can, I use episodes from my own life. Today, however, I’d rather get straight to the point.
For the past few months I’ve felt discontented. It’s not as if there are any major problems in my life—quite the opposite, in fact. I have a stable, well-paying job in my chosen career field. That alone is a fortune foreign to most. I have great relationships in every facet of my life. I’m actively involved in church and a weekly Bible study. I have health insurance, a closetful of clothes, and a car that runs smoothly. I’ve never lacked food, water, or shelter.
In short, my basic needs—and then some—are more than taken care of.
It’s hard to write a column like this, to tell you that I’ve been taking the blessings of my life for granted. Especially since I know I am—and continue to do it anyway.
2011 1507 page28What’s even more difficult is figuring out how to swim against this current of enigmatic negativity.
Learning From History
During my senior year in college I went through a similar phase. The anticipation of life after graduation turned me into a giant ball of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. I felt as if I were running the 100-meter dash in the Olympics—only there was a cliff at the finish line.
At the height of my frustration I was slotted as a speaker for that spring’s Week of Prayer. The topic: How I had encountered God during my college years. Needless to say, it wasn’t the best timing.
As I sat preparing my sermon, I began perusing the story of Joseph.
You know how it goes: In just a little more than 13 years Joseph went from being an insignificant prisoner to running the day-to-day operations of the most powerful nation on earth. We know how Joseph went from slave to ruler; God divinely orchestrated the events that led to his encounter with Pharaoh. The bigger question is: Why did God pick Joseph?
The answer is found in Joseph’s response to uncertainty.
As a slave in Potiphar’s house, Joseph fulfilled his duties with such thoroughness that before long he was in charge of the entire estate. As a prisoner after being wrongly accused, he developed such a rapport with the warden that he was put in charge of the other inmates. And, of course, you know what happened when he met Pharaoh.
I can’t think of a Bible character who had less knowledge about his future than Joseph. At each point in his journey after being sold into slavery, Joseph had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. Despite that, Joseph never lost focus of the moment. How did he do it? By removing the focus from himself. Whether as a slave, prisoner, or ruler, Joseph’s life was centered on selflessly serving others. It’s what made him the perfect candidate to lead a nation through its darkest times, and why his own faith rarely wavered.
Joseph’s life of service impacted me then, and its power isn’t lost on me now. It’s a whole lot easier to be content with each day when I concentrate on meeting the needs of others. When my life is all about me, worry, fear, and anxiety creep in. I become discontented.
That’s the trap I’ve fallen into lately. I’ve been so caught up in where I’m going, what I’m doing, and who I’m trying to be that I’ve lost sight of Jesus’ words: “Do not worry about tomorrow” (Matt. 6:34) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).
These verses aren’t even from the same chapter, but they couldn’t be more fundamentally linked.
It’s time to start swimming against the current.
Jimmy Phillips ([email protected]) writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is marketing and communication coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. This article was published March 10, 2011.