8 Ways To Be Content

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I’ve been wrestling again. Not in a literal sense, thankfully. My body has long been too old for that.

I’ve been wrestling with contentment. As I inch closer to 40 years old I’ve been exploring ways to find happiness. Real happiness. The kind you get from helping someone with something bigger than yourself. The hard truth about your dad, despite all of the fun we have and the good things I do, is that I’m prone to fits of desperation. I sink into week long, sometimes month long, periods of over-thought and grasp at ideals.

Lately I’ve been there again. There must be more, right? There must be some unfulfilled purpose for my life that I haven’t realized yet. My life is supposed to be a sunset on the beach or a sunrise over tall mountains. It’s supposed to be races in exotic places across the globe and pats on the back. It’s supposed to be written about; how many great things I did. How many lives I changed and touched.

But more often than not it feels like morning traffic, broken appliances, a tired body, and a constant battle to stay young. And a mailbox full of bills.

This morning as I drank my coffee on the deck, I watched the early morning mist settle over our fenced in backyard and the cloud hanging over me rose. I thought of these ways I can be better.

1. Watch your kids sleep – I leave home for work earlier these days. So my goodbye kisses are usually while you kids are all still asleep. I kiss each of you, always in order from youngest to oldest. Nothing brings peace in my life more than watching all three of you sleeping in your beds. You’re safe and warm. And each of you brings me more joy than any wealth or experience. Take time to sneak into your kids rooms and watch them sleeping. Slow down just for a moment and realize that their peaceful rest, self worth, and safety is your life’s purpose.

2. Picture your wedding day and imagine your first dance – Being an adult isn’t easy. There are times when mommy and I are just too tired to muster much conversation. There are times when life weighs upon us so heavily that we give only our worst to each other. We’re best friends and all too often we each just need someone to listen to how hard our day was, or how rotten our luck has been lately. Unfortunately that only makes life harder. Instead, when things are tough and you’re struggling imagine your spouse on your wedding day. Think about how lucky you felt to be spending the rest of your life with that person. Remember how happy you were to have someone to share life with. How hopeful you were about how you would be treated and taken care of. What was the first song you danced to and why? Mine and mommy’s was “Carolina in my mind.” Life isn’t always greener on the other side. In fact, it’s almost always not.

3. Appreciate where you are – I spend a lot of time thinking about South Carolina. Or Colorado. Or the Keys. Or the northwest. Or Texas; places I’ve been that I want to be again and places I want to visit. But by constantly wanting to be somewhere else I’m missing the beauty of where I am. We’re surrounded by tall rolling hills here in middle Tennessee. Every morning the sun peaks over the hills and into the valleys, as clouds of fog and mist hang in the air. I’m lucky to explore our home by bike and on foot. I’ve seen places in our county that most miss completely, because I’m willing and able to find them. Country stores, farms, old barns, deep valleys, and winding country roads going up steep ridges. I pass farm houses with smoke rising from the chimney and the smell of breakfast on the stove filling the air.  Appreciate your daily surroundings more often. Somewhere, someone is sick of the heat and sand at the beach and longs for cool Tennessee mornings.

4. Eat dinner as a family – This can be difficult these days. And unfortunately it’s more common for families not to do this anymore. I grew up sitting around the dinner table. Sometimes we talked about the day, sometimes we sat mostly in silence. But either way, that connectivity and that time together served as a break from the hustle and bustle of life. Our family does a good job of eating together. Sometimes it’s rushed. Usually it’s stressful with you kids climbing on the table, getting up and down from the table, the dog trying to get your food, but we’re together. That time is important. Make meal time together at your house a priority. Gather around the table. Even if it’s crazy. Watch your kids eat. For some reason I’ve always felt fulfilled and content with my life watching my kids happily eat the food I’m fortunate enough to provide for them.

5. Shut out the outside world and slow down – I sold our Ipad yesterday. It was a first step in ridding our family of unnecessary distractions. We’re already the most marketed to and “connected” society in the history of mankind. I believe that connectivity is destroying our families real connection though. I understand that technology is important. Access to information is vital and in some cases makes life “easier”. But there are times when one of us is on the Ipad, two of you are playing games on phones or consoles, one of us is on the laptop – and none of us are with each other. Quite is essential to contentment. Shut off the noise of social media, the constant stream of information, the constant search for your next move or want. Slow down. Be where you are. Really be with your loved ones.

6. See everyone as someone’s child – I get frustrated with people. We all do. People make mistakes. They get in our way. Sometimes they do things to hurt us or our loved ones. But everyone was someone’s precious newborn baby once. They grew into kids, went to school, played ball in the yard, etc. Hopefully their parents loved them unconditionally. As a Christian my place on earth is to show that same love. When I see everyone as someone else’s child and God’s child from the beginning, and I think about how much I love my own kids, it changes how I interact with others. This is easy to write, but hard to live out. I’m trying.

7. Read your Bible each morning – I got desperate awhile back. My life wasn’t going the way I wanted it to. Bad luck was around every corner. Like most men, I turned back to the Word, because I needed it. That’s a bad way to live. It’s our road map for daily life – not a “break glass in case of emergency” resource. But that’s how I treated it. Since then I’ve been diligent in my daily reading. Every morning. I fix my coffee and sit down at the kitchen table while the rest of you sleep. Did my life suddenly get better? No. Did I feel more at peace that God was with me through good and bad? Absolutely. Reading my Bible each morning is as vital to me as exercise or food for my body. Max, a few days ago you asked Mommy “why is Daddy always reading his Bible?” I knew in that moment that I was fulfilling another of my purposes in life. Your kids notice what you do, even if you don’t ask them to. Leaving my Bible open on the table every morning doesn’t hurt though.

8. Get rid of your stuff – Ok, here we go; appreciate what you have, yadda yadda yadda….This is the old contentment cliche. Cliche or not, it’s true. Awhile back I started getting rid of my things: clothes, movies, books, random junk. And I stopped buying more. It’s hard to explain why….but I’m happier. I have what I need and I’m thinking of what I can give to someone who has real needs. Take care of each other.

I love you kids,

– Daddy