Saturday, April 25, 2009

On Contentment: How two good things can become one poisonous thing

No, there is nothing to read into the pic. It is just a funny picture about choice. But we'll get to that...

I'm preaching on Habakkuk at York Street Anglican during May. In Habakkuk 3:17-19, the Prophet claims:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.
Impossible, right?

*No*, and *yet* I am taken to the 'high places'? How is that for contentment?

So... I intend to make some random comments about contentment through May.

Here is the first one: How two good things can become one poisonous thing.

In our very very very very very very very very rich culture, we have choices. Options. And usually good options. Sometimes we are given the option of two (or more) great possibilities on the one issue: The choice of which dinner, which job, which house, which school, which partner, which church.

But instead of seeing them as they are (two great choices), we may deeply believe in our psyches that there is a best option -- one slightly better than the other. And that to get the not-best option would be detrimental in some way.

So we agonize over which car, which holiday destination, which restaurant, which route, which college. And when we choose the thing that we end up perceiving as the lesser of the two, even when we couldn't have known how things would work out, we get upset.

Sometimes devastated.

Advice then: Stop agonising over two great options. Take a joy pill. They are both good options. Tell yourself that. Either will work. Really they will.

And as to the future: you can't control outcomes anyway. So Relax. Be content. Choose away.

Take joy in God alone. Do not take joy in choosing the fig tree over the vines, the olive over the fields, the flock over the herd. According to Yahweh, you be utterly denied them all, and still rise the the heights of joy.

Reminds me of Jesus.


Pic on Flickr by Anyjazz65.


Emma said...

Reminds me of Ecclesiastes 11.

Howard said...

Speaking from personal experience, often when a rich person agonizes over two good/great choices, joy is elusive because this emotion is tied to making the "right" choice. I.e. "If I don't choose right, I won't be happy." When people who are destitute are joyful, it is usually because they have chosen to be joyful in the face of lack of any good options at all. In other words, they make the choice as joy vs. agony, not BMW vs. Mercedes (with joy to follow).

Cameron and Alex Grey Jones said...

Habakkuk 3:17-19; my 'pin on the fridge' verses–
the verses that remind me that I can be joyful (as distinct from 'happy') when all around me has crumbled and is desolate, and my emotions cannot be relied upon, as they too have broken.
This has been my experience over many years, and I come back to these words as the truth and touchstone of contentment. Why?
Because I can rejoice in my God, my SAVIOUR.
Thanks for posting Justin, Alex

Justin said...

Howard and Alex,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful and personal comments. I thank God for how he has worked in your life.

Emma said...

What about me? :(

Justin said...

Of course, dear Emma! My humblest apologies. I was going for the personal comments. But that is not to say that your observation about Ecclesiates is not valuable! It is.


Martin said...


True true. This has been picked up (in a secular context) by this book that my roommate read and really liked. Not sure if you've heard of it: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

Let's see if my html skillz work.
This is the Amazon link for the book.

Martin said...

Nailed it! Woo!

John Bunyan said...

I don't have time for blogging (in either sense). Only came across this blog because someone saw the name "York Street Anglican" !!! It has been S.Philip's since its foundation. S.Philip's Parish Church speaks of a Church of a community, a Church broad and open to all. York Street Anglican is meaningless to many and suggests a sect which is what our Church seems to be turning into.

Why does the Church continue to cut off its links with the past- and with people? (not least those who value the BCP at a time when one can attend - the new Dean of Melbourne has just commented on the way in which younger people are now attracted to it).

In our hospital, last week, among the c.90 patients on my lists, the great majority of them Anglican, 35% of Anglicans identified as C of E. The name "Anglican" remains unfamiliar to many so naturally I always introduced myself as the C of E chaplain. (So too, in my last parish, 2/3rds of the young parents at the public school identified themselves as C.of E.)
"Church of Australia" of course would be preferable - suggested way back in the 1880s and again by Archbishop Fisher in the 50s, as justifiable as "Church of Ireland" for the minority but very lively Irish Church.

At Bankstown Hospital we still hope that after 12 years, even ONE other Anglican interested in PEOPLE would join our chaplaincy team. After all, as Habakkuk says, the just / righteous will LIVE by their FAITHFULNESS. Jesus, in S.Luke 10.28, said one finds
LIFE - even the non-Jewish, non-Christian Samaritan in the parable, simply by loving or caring for God, and loving or caring for one's neighbour. Or as Micah puts it, what does God require - only this, to love kindness, to do justice, and to walk humbly with our God. It's as basic as that - and as challenging.
Dominus vobiscum.