Contentment

Working among the Amazon poor confirms that material gain and more "creature comforts" does not provide happiness.  There is so little material comfort here and no less happiness than in the U.S. suburbs.  It is fascinating to me, in fact, that the same spectrum of contentment to discontentment is apparent among the river people living in shacks as in the much more prosperous (by comparison) U.S.  I have marveled many times at the obvious contentment in people living in a one-room shack with no furniture, electricity, and running water as they express empathy for someone who is "poor" living down the river.  They’ve told me that they don’t understand what would drive a person to work harder and to work more hours to have a bigger house, or why someone would leave their family and friends to relocate for a "better" job.  This is a culture where relationships are far more important than things or accomplishments.  It could definitely be argued that they are lazy, and depending on your standards, this would be true.  Or perhaps they simply have different values and priorities than the driven, performance-oriented people of the U.S. culture.  Is it laziness that causes one to wash clothes with a machine or is it laziness that causes a person to do little else after washing clothes by hand?

It is certainly clear that the cultural attitude in Brasil and in many parts of the world hinders "progress".  They don’t experience the pleasure of invention, achievement, and ingenuity, but have virtually nothing and seem to be just fine as they are.  There has been little industrial/technological progress here in the last 200 years, compared to the incredible progress in the U.S. and Europe.  One cannot deny that on virtually every front, there has been more progress in the last 200 years than in all of previous history combined.  But living in a third world setting has caused me to reconsider, "Is the price we pay (and have paid) for progress worth it?".  The cost is paid in effort, stress, time, and sacrificed relationships.  I wonder how many have actually sacrificed their lives for "progress" (I would love to know the accumulated number of people who have been sacrificed – willingly and unwillingly – throughout history just to improve travel alone – by water, train, road, and air).

Of course, many people benefit from scientific progress, for example, and which is, for the most part, taken for granted.  But is mankind better because of it, as measured in happiness, contentment, peace and joy?  Many surveys list "peace of mind" as a gauge of success with most people.  Are we seeing more of this? 

As I look at the prevalence of depression and anxiety and lack of inner peace in the people of the U.S., I wonder if all that we have "accomplished" in the industrial and technological ages has had the benefit that the polish and shine suggest.  I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that discontentment has increased significantly world-wide in the last 200 years.  Trillions of dollars have been given to the "poor" over the last century and one result is that our global health statistics reveal a significantly increased life expectancy since 1900.  So, with our increased life expectancy globally, would it be fair to say that our "progress" has provided the opportunity for the average man to live in inner turmoil longer?  I wonder if having more outer things only creates less healthy inner space.  In the U.S., we have pity for the people in South and Central America in their one room shacks, living day to day.  Perhaps the pity would be better placed on those in the U.S. who exhaustively spend their lives digging wells where there is no water.

It appears clearer than ever to me (after living a few years in a third world setting) that "life" cannot be found in anything in this world.  Once we, as the church, finally realize this, we will begin to enthusiastically encourage struggling, thirsty people toward the Kingdom of God and not toward some combination of world and Kingdom.  As the church, we talk about the Kingdom but with our lives we promote double-mindedness and fence-riding with our devotion to comfort, prosperity, accomplishment and leisure (the things of this world).  Jesus’ church is choking on thorns and briars (the cares of this world), rendering it useless.  Jesus is for us but one of many interests, making us lukewarm and ineffective.  He is calling (and has been for a long time) for a people who, in dying to the cares of this world, will follow the way of the cross, choosing a life of difficulty over a life of security and comfort.  Why?  To benefit those people caught in this confusing matrix of life without knowing the purpose and the love of its Designer.

I must ask only me this question today.  Can I be content to walk with God, to "dial down" and to focus on what is important to my Father (relationship)?  Am I willing… to do what is uncomfortable, risky, exhausting, painful… to love, to speak to, to serve, those hurting?  Or will I continue to dig and dig and dig in the dry sand for water when Jesus is pointing to a source that we can’t see until we walk away from our own ideas and follow Him there?

 

Random Thoughts:

 

Kingdom living is "nevertheless" living.  "This difficult/painful circumstance has occurred; nevertheless I will worship and trust my loving God."  "He/she did/said that harmful thing to/about me, nevertheless I will love them, pray for them, serve them…

To love deeply is to experience deep joy and deep pain.  How deeply we love is our choice.

There is nothing like a parent’s love for their child, regardless of age.

Time passes quickly and your memory will fade.  Appreciate every experience.

Passionate investment in one thing requires an attitude of marked indifference toward other things.

Knowing what to do and how to do it are helpful but they have no value until you do the work.

If you are mentally, physically, and spiritually equipped to handle difficulty, I have raised you well.

We are often blind to our shortcomings and a true friend will point these out with care.

To never quit is not a virtue.  Perseverance, in what you’ve been called to, is a virtue.

God doesn’t help those who help themselves, He helps those who ask.

What you don’t have appears attractive, but this attraction "changes" when it becomes yours.

Faith is not belief, but trust.

Prayer is not talking to God.  It is a conversation with our Father.

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