Contentment

Blake Mankin raises money to build wells

Blake Mankin started Hope for Africa at his school. The club raised more than $6,000 by selling buttons during homecoming. The money paid for two wells in Southern Sudan that now provide more than 10,000 people with daily access to clean water.

Homecoming comes once a year and there’s this competition where whoever has the biggest mum gets announced at the pep rally.  It just turned into this big status thing where people are trying to out-buy each other and I thought what if my high school could do something with this excessive tradition to give people in Sudan clean water.   

I was born to two incredible parents who have loved me very well.  I have a father who makes a decent amount of money. So, I guess I have had the childhood growing up like the world has probably said is a perfect childhood, the perfect way to grow up.

I step off a plane coming from a city where most of the Moms drive Lexus’ and most of the kids get new cars on their sixteenth birthday. And I step out of the plane and I see that most people are walking. We drive through the village and I see a girl bathing in the middle of the street because she doesn’t have anywhere else to take a bath. And it smells bad and there’s houses that are built out of trash.

I looked at that and said, “How can God allow such pain and such hurt and such anguish on these people.” Then I started to look at my life and the life of my community. I was asking the question: how could God allow us to be so distracted? What if we changed the question to: how could God let us to be so affluent?

Yes. It’s horrible that we see this poverty but we realize that Jesus was using the poor to have to rely completely and totally and whole-heartedly on Jesus. Jesus is contentment and everything that I have is only temporary happiness.

Ever since I was born, I mean right out of the womb, my Mom and my Dad have been reading me Bible stories and they have been praying with me and they have been so great that as I’ve grown up they’ve backed up and said, “You know you have to make this faith your own”.  

I’m sitting with a friend at lunch and we were looking around at just the mums and the garters.  We could totally use this tradition for something WAY, WAY cool.  And we were like what if we had somebody just donate the money they would have used to buy like a mum or garter and they bought like a button that just said, “I sent my mum to Africa” or something.  What if our white, middle-class high school could do something with this excessive tradition to give people in Sudan clean water?

I don’t think it matters whether you have a lot of money or not a lot of money, every human being somewhere deep in their soul is looking for something more than what they see. What Jesus is to me is that ultimate thirst quencher, I mean, there is no other way to put it except that Jesus is the ultimate contentment for me.  And that was what I was trying to be portrayed through this project.  

My name is Blake Mankin and I am Second.

 

#simplicityday

Just one more thing won’t hurt, I think to myself, adding to my online shopping cart. It’s a tiny lie, because right now, every surface of my house is covered. My kitchen island is a showcase of unopened mail, a highchair tray covered in half-eaten toast, and toddler clothes that I don’t even have time to cut the tags off of. The funny thing is today is National Simplicity Day, but in all honesty? I want more.

It wasn’t always this way, at least for me and my husband. We took pride in keeping things simple while he was in graduate school. Our financial circumstances kept us from owning much at all. Secondhand furniture? Wearing clothes from nine years ago that still fit? Rice and beans every night? Check, check, and check.

But then we had a baby. Now I can’t take a step without tripping on her stuff. I bought all of this stuff for my daughter, so that makes it OK, right?


In my gut, I know I’m going about this all wrong. I wrongly believe nothing will ever be enough for my daughter


I buy toys that claim to make my daughter smarter, clothes that will garner compliments, enroll her in group classes in hopes that she will make more friends and excel more quickly than the other children. I want the nicest SUV that will keep her the safest and for her to attend the school that will give her an edge in life. I want all the things.

In my gut, I know I’m going about this all wrong. I know because I wrestle with discontent on a regular basis. I wrongly believe nothing will ever be enough for my daughter. My double standard of clearance rack for me and on-trend designer dresses for my daughter tells the true story: I am an undercover materialist.

Becoming a parent triggered this in me, and now it’s a constant battle for me to be OK with a simple life.

Materialism is subtle and sneaky because it masquerades as good intentions. Wanting to belong is OK. Wanting great things and opportunities for our children is OK. But when what drives our spending is comparison, fear of being left behind, or even worse, addiction, we’ve crossed over to the dark side. It’s not about stuff anymore. It’s about God, and not believing what he has given us is enough. Or that he is enough.


Materialism is subtle and sneaky because it masquerades as good intentions.


But practically speaking, how does one live simply with children? I don’t know. I’m a first time parent, and like the rest of us, I’m winging it. But I do know this: Every day I have the freedom to choose. Do I choose to keep my eyes on what works for my own family or allow them to stray and long for what isn’t mine? Do I choose to enjoy spending time with my daughter or do I wring my hands because I can’t afford to throw her the swankiest birthday party on the block?

When I’m “jonesing” for more stuff the most, I try to stop and breathe. Does my daughter have what she needs to thrive? Yes. Is she happy? Yes. What more is there?

In honor of celebrating National Simplicity Day, will you join me in being thankful for what you have already? Let’s enjoy being alive today, the friends we do have, the work we have, heck, even the mess on the counter tops. For just one day, let’s slow down and believe that what God has given is good. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have eyes to see that the stuff itself isn’t what we want more of after all.

 

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

I can still see the sales rack in my mind. I can hear the hangers clanking as I fingered through the T-shirts. I can even tell you exactly where in the store I stood staring at the bright yellow and blue “3 for $18.99” sales sign.

All my clothes came via my older brother, thrift shops, or family friends. Well, except the clothes my mom made herself. So, maybe I wasn’t the most stylish kid on the block. Obviously, this sales rack meant some desperately needed style in my life. No more handmade clothes and no more hand-me-downs. This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair. Yes, I was homeschooled and my mom made my clothes. I know. I know.


This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair.


Never mind, that it was a discount retail store where I stood staring at the rack. Mom told me I could pick from that rack any three T-shirts. Three! Can you imagine that. I’d never had three new shirts ever. I could only pick from that one rack, but who cares. They were new and not made by mom. I love you, mom!

Twenty years later, I can still feel the emotional rise and joy of the moment. I touched and examined every one of those shirts. I was there for at least an hour engulfed in decision making. Looney Tunes were cool then. Well, at least I thought they were, but we’ve already discussed my level of style at the time. I got one Tasmanian Devil shirt with some sassy saying, a Daffy Duck shirt, and a Looney Tunes compilation shirt. And I wore those things for years, and I do mean years. Of all my early childhood, those shirts rank top four possessions along with a Styrofoam plane, Mario Brothers, and a Mickey Mouse that read books to me.

I’m now married, have kids, a good job. And I don’t shop at that store anymore. A class thing, I guess. Somehow, it feels below me. I’m embarrassed to even say that. I erased this paragraph like five times trying to decide if I’d even tell you this. But there it is. I think I’m too good to shop at that discount retailer.

What happened? Those shirts brought me years of joy and pride but now I’ve got a brand name shirt on. And the thing is, I’m no happier than I was twenty years ago wearing those Looney Tunes T-shirts.


The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.


There is a name for this. It’s called materialism. Sometimes it’s called the love of money, greed, or discontentment. Whatever we call it, I’ve got it. I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. That’d be just plain contentment. I’m not. I find myself at a place I call happy discontentment. I don’t spend crazy or have a house full of stuff I don’t use, but I do carry with me this itch for more. I don’t need more, but something in me wants more. I’m happy with my life, but carry with me this discontented itch. So, I find myself at happy discontentment.

No matter how many shirts I buy or how much money I spend on those shirts, I’ve never been happier than when I got three terribly 90’s Looney Tunes T-shirts. The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

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