“Now is the winter of our discontent”
Don’t worry. This blog isn’t about Shakespeare. It’s also not about Richard The Third, Act 1, scene 1. It’s about the way so many—so many—people are feeling this winter.
“Will this winter never end?”
If you pay attention to the national weather, you know it’s been an unusually harsh winter. Even if you only follow local weather, you know that southwest Idaho has broken all records for snowfall. So, there’s plenty to be discontent over when it comes to weather.
But you already figured out that despite record-breaking winter weather harshness, this isn’t about that kind of discontent. No, if only. I’m writing about…deep breath…politics. For this is the winter of our political discontent, the likes of which few have ever seen.
Here is the first of three tiny requests: keep reading. I know that you may feel a twitch right now. You’re tempted to skim over the rest of this article to see which candidate I voted for. But you won’t find anything. Because that’s really the point I’m trying to make. This winter of our deep discontent is so harsh, so far-reaching, so insidious, that we’re tempted to skim ahead. We immediately look for the bias. We seek to quickly discern which side the other is on. Ours? Or the idiots? Ally? Or enemy? So, just like on your Facebook news feed, you’re skimming to see if you and I are kindred spirits or if I’m some pathetically misguided fool who has been drinking the Kool-Aid the others are selling.
And that’s precisely the heart of the problem: we’re feeding our discontent.
We have met the enemy
lack of contentment; dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances.
“popular discontent with the system had been general for several years”
synonyms: dissatisfaction, disaffection, discontentment, discontentedness, disgruntlement, grievances, unhappiness, displeasure, bad feelings, resentment, envy
* a person who is dissatisfied, typically with the prevailing social or political situation.
“the cause attracted a motley crew of discontents and zealots”
And the enemy isn’t who we expected
Let’s cut to the chase. I, like you, have experienced much more discontent over the past 3-4 months than in decades before. In fact, my elevated level of discontent has actually…made me more discontent. While watching the news, I’ll blurt out, I mean, really? Why can’t people calm down? They’re making me crazy! (Ask my family. They’ll confirm this.)
However, if you, like me, can relate to that general sense of “unhappiness, displeasure, bad feelings, resentment” and an unrelenting drip of negativity, let’s agree right now on this: Enough! I’ve had enough!
Go ahead. Make this declaration:
“I’ve had enough.”
Excellent! We’ve taken the first step. All that remains in our way…is all that stuff that made us discontent.
“Nuts! Nothing changed.”
Well, yes. Something did change. Your attitude changed. In a way, you finally reached a point where you became discontent with being discontent.
Stay with that. Because we do get to choose. Being discontent isn’t a “thing” that happens to us. It’s not the same as historic snow levels or bitter cold temperatures. We give our discontent life. We empower it. In short, we choose to be discontent.
Which means we can also choose to not be discontent.
“This isn’t your father’s…discontent.”
Here’s the second of my tiny requests: stay open. What follows matters.
Consider the Apostle Paul. If anyone in the history of the human race had reasons to be discontent, Paul did. He endured many beatings, hardships, betrayals, shipwrecks, imprisonment, exposure, hunger, sleepless nights, poverty, etc. Yet he writes:
I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11–13)
Hm. Some might call this an inconvenient truth.
Not because Paul’s contentment came from learning. His learning was the result of experiencing the good and the not-good, being “brought low” as well as discovering “how to abound.” He declares he has “learned the secret” of contentment. And the secret isn’t tied to improving his circumstances. The secret isn’t hidden in finding like-minded people and rejecting all others. The secret isn’t to be found in superior arguments, increased wealth, a certain person winning the election or even improved weather.
No, Paul’s secret is to not depend on himself for his contentment. Paul finally recognizes the source of his contentment is outside of himself. He declares that Jesus is the source of his contentment “in any and every circumstance.” For some, that’s inconvenient. But remember, you choose to be discontent. And you just declared you’ve had enough of it.
Three steps to being content
The first step to take is to learn from Paul. Depend not on your ability to discover or generate your own contentment. Because it simply can’t work. We all have plenty of life delivering circumstances we can’t control. The more we try to control things, the less contentment we’ll experience. And why bother? Instead, do all things through him who strengthens you, just as he empowered Paul’s contentment.
The second step to take is to open back up. A great many of my friends have taken to social media (Facebook seems to be the favorite) to clobber anyone with a different viewpoint than theirs. For months, it seems as if everything comes with a political top-spin. Being passionate about a subject is fine, right up to the moment you succumb to using ALL CAPS TO DELIVER A JAW-DROPPING ARGUMENT THAT APPARENTLY NO ONE CAN DISAGREE WITH. Except someone always does. Such is life. Not everyone will agree with you. Some of you don’t agree with me, right this moment. But we’re still bound together in Christ, warts and all. Inconvenient? Sometimes. Truth? Always.
The third step to take is to serve. It’s been discouraging for me to see how many fellow believers have railed against their brothers and sisters in the Lord over things not worthy of obliterating a friendship over. Families have been ruptured because of politically different views. “Divisiveness” has taken on an unholy power in this day and age.
Then go on a diet
So here comes my final tiny request: pause and reflect. Divisiveness isn’t a prize to be won. Being divisive is not a badge of courage. It’s not something to celebrate when you “let them have it.” Maybe it’s just time to step away from social media for a few days. Or longer. You get to choose how discontent you are. Engage a social media diet and see what happens to your contentment.
It’s not always about you
However strong you feel about current events, however compelling your viewpoint on issues close to your heart, you don’t have a God-ordained option for breaking fellowship with believers. You only have a man-made option. Paul faced challenges we can only imagine, although our brothers and sisters in foreign lands face what he faced. They face them today. So our discontent should be fueled not by local politics, but by global threats to those who seek their contentment from he who strengthens them. Our discontent should be directed at trying to understand—at a heart level—those who hold the polar opposite view as ours. All of us are swayed by circumstances outside our control. All of us are tempted to fear and react against change. But is that the way you want to live? Swayed by fear, antagonism, retribution and fierce reactions?
Instead, be careful which discontent you choose. All of us would be blessed by a daily habit of being discontent with our discontent. Because only then can we discover the secret that true contentment can be found only outside of ourselves. We are broken. He is whole. We are hurt. He is healing. We are fearful. He declares, “Fear not!” Our focus is inward. He frees us to see beyond our needs and our limitations. Only he can break the bondage of our discontent and liberate us to his unconditional compassion.
Again, declare “I’ve had enough!” Then nurture an abiding discontent with being discontent.
Engage here. Leave a comment below. What’s your experience with discontentment?
This blog first appeared in Christian Living Magazine.