I am a girl who always looks at things and sees how they can be improved. It suits me well in my career as a consultant. I can walk right in a room and easily notice all the things that can be better- there needs to be an outlet cover on that plug, that stack of boxes near the ceiling is a fire code violation, this shelf should be secured for earthquake safety. I can watch a rowdy classroom and immediately see three adjustments a teacher can make to restore peace in minutes. I’m able to skim a document and find typos on the spot. It’s a gift that makes me a good asset for my clients, especially when I can take those observations and help them put together a plan for improvement. I love what I do, especially when I can see people enjoy their work more as they grow toward excellence.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]My fear is that I’ll get so wrapped up in running a race that I don’t even notice I crossed the finish line… and that would be sad and insulting to the God who carried me the whole way.[/pullquote]It’s both a good thing and a bad thing that this ‘gift’ spills over into my personal life. I’m constantly noticing things I’d like to improve- I could have had a better tone of voice when I spoke to my son just now, I’ve not been spending enough time reading the Bible lately, my windows really need to be cleaned. In some cases, this watchful eye is a great motivator, compelling me to speak nicely, wake up earlier, and find someone to clean my windows. It helps me to learn and improve.
Other times, though, it causes some problems. Though I want to strive for godliness, when I finally reach a victory, I tend to rush right past it. Recently, I lost 22 pounds. But to tell you the truth, when I stepped on my scale, I didn’t even see those 22 pounds. I saw the 25 that still need to go. When I host an event, the dishes aren’t even put away before I’m mentally making a list of what I want to do differently next time. I barely finish teaching a class, and I’m back to the drawing board making notes about things I want to change in the future. It’s hard for me to reach a healthy level of contentment, especially when I keep seeing ways to do better.
The Bible reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:6 that “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I think maybe Paul means that to be truly rich, we have to find the balance between striving toward godliness and resting in contentment. Yes, we want to strive toward the perfection that Jesus modeled for us, but we also want to be able to be content with the peace that He’s given us as well. For me, that message gives me comfort to know that striving toward perfection is a good thing. Being a perfectionist isn’t sin in itself. It’s good to want to make things better, to do better, to BE better. The sin comes in when we can’t appreciate the beauty of what God has already done, has already given us, has already equipped us to do because we are rushing off to the next thing.
One thing that I try to do to improve my contentment (see what I did there?) is take the time to notice and celebrate gifts and accomplishments before I start plotting the next thing. That looks like stopping and celebrating a wedding anniversary with a husband who needs to hear that I’m happy with who he is even more than he needs to hear my helpful tips on how he could be a better husband. It looks like sending a text to a friend who needs to celebrate living a year since her husband left her. It looks like making a special dinner for a child who brought up a grade in a subject they struggled in. It means stopping a client and making them pat themselves on the back for making progress before we look at the next goal. It means doing a mini wave in celebration of the fact that I made my bed every day this week (go, me!). It means celebrating silly holidays and dancing in celebration of the little things.
I’ve been working on my M.Ed. for the last year, and by the time you read this, I will be in the final days of the program. Now that I’m getting closer to the target, I’m tempted to sit down and plan out what to do next. I keep wanting to Google doctorate programs, send out resumes, update my LinkedIn Profile. I struggle with wondering what I need to work on next before I’ve even finished with the last thing God told me to do. My fear is that I’ll get so wrapped up in running a race that I don’t even notice I crossed the finish line… and that would be sad and insulting to the God who carried me the whole way.
So, instead of hitting “delete” when the information about the graduation ceremony arrived in my inbox, I hesitated for a moment. Do I need to travel out and wear a cap and gown and walk among a bunch of twentysomethings in my orthopedic shoes to validate this achievement? Of course not. Do I have more critical things to do with my time than attend the ceremony? Maybe. But I think that taking the time to celebrate this victory has a few very important benefits. First, it teaches my children that celebrating accomplishments is important. Next, it allows me a chance to let God and the people who supported me to be able to do this see that I appreciate what they provided for me. Finally, it’s a step in the right direction for me toward that goal of godliness with contentment… and that makes me feel extremely rich, indeed.
How about you? Do you struggle with contentment? What do you need to celebrate today? I’d love to hear in the comments.