Comparison, Suffering and the Art of Contentment

Comparison, Suffering and the Art of Contentment

Today I’m delighted to welcome Phil Knox, who is head of mission to young adults for the Evangelical Alliance. He’s also a friend I’ve known for many, many years. Phil’s been kind enough to endorse my book, and here he shares some thoughts about contentment and about the book, Catching Contentment.

“Childhood is an amazing and beautiful thing.  My wife and I have just had our second child.  To be fair she did most of the work, but Jos has arrived and he is amazing.  But he has not got a clue what is going on.  Ask him about Trump, Brexit, Premier League football or even what he wants for dinner and you will get the same blank stare and occasional smile.  He is the epitome of innocence and ignorance.  Our firstborn, Caleb is six.  He cares a lot more about what he has for dinner, is football mad, but is pretty chilled on our relationship with the European Union.

As we get older, our experiences and relationships open our eyes to the world around us.  The veneer of innocence begins to wear and the veil of ignorance fades.  As I think of my own childhood, it seems fairytale-like as I look back through nostalgic, misty eyed fondness.  However, as I approached and entered adulthood, my eyes widened to perceive two things that threatened to pull the rug of childlike contentment. 

The first was comparison.  We grew up on a council estate in a house that was big enough for our family of five and as a little boy you never contemplate what it would be like to move.  Our family home was all I ever wanted.  As I visited family and went to friends’ houses from school I would see another world of spacious living rooms, long gardens and bigger TVs. 

The second was suffering.  Whilst comparison grew steadily, suffering hit me like a sledgehammer to the face.  Until the age of 21 I had known little suffering.  My grandparents had died, but they were old and I understood that death at old age was part of life.  I wasn’t bullied, my parents didn’t divorce and my football team never got relegated.  But at 21, in a defining year of my life, my dad had a catastrophic heart failure and died suddenly aged 48. 

Comparison and suffering are enemies of contentment. 

In a world where our favourite online habit is social media we spend hours voyeuristically spying on the lives of our friends and we cannot escape the inner monologue that repeatedly nags us to see how our happiness matches up to theirs.  Our Facebook walls on our smartphone have become the looking glasses we hold up to compare our lives to theirs and ask, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Our Facebook walls on our smartphone have become the looking glasses we hold up to compare our lives to theirs and ask, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?’

Comfort has been elevated to almost idol status.  Social awkwardness is avoided, we pursue financial stability and desire physical snugness.  But when suffering unexpectedly comes and shatters our comfortable world we are surprised, cry foul and even hide it from those around us, because the narrative of our society is that you can have it all, when you want it, however you like it.

In this world we desperately need to rediscover the art, the state and the discipline of contentment.  You might say we need to ‘catch’ it. 

In this world we desperately need to rediscover the art, the state and the discipline of contentment. You might say we need to ‘catch’ it. @PhilKnox reflects on #CatchingContentment by @LizCarterWriter Click To Tweet

Liz Carter was my babysitter.  Her parents led the church I grew up in through those years of ignorance and innocence.  As I read her story, knowing only some of it in part, I could feel the struggle and wrestle she walks through fighting the narrative of our comfort-obsessed, comparison-driven society on one side and the un-Biblical, unhelpful Christian tendency to think that ‘when you follow Jesus, everything will be fine,’ on the other.

We need a deep, holy dissatisfaction with the world that drives us to rail against injustice, proclaim the Good News from the roof tops and whisper it to our friends and daily cry, ‘Thy Kingdom Come!’  But we also need as deep a holy satisfaction with our own circumstances to quieten our moaning, fight our comparative spirit and ride the waves of pain and adversity in a world of brokenness.

That’s why ‘Catching Contentment’ is so important, why Liz’s story is so authentic and why you should read it.  Today, may you find discontentment with the world and let it fuel your prayers and action, but may you choose a childlike, counter-cultural contentment in a consumer-driven society.  May you pray the famous old prayer for serenity for the things that you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Thank you so much to Phil, and I do echo this prayer for all of you as you read:

May you choose a childlike, counter-cultural contentment in a consumer-driven society. 

Follow Phil on Twitter @philknox

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