23rd February - Be Discontent for Lent

Have you ever noticed how the more we have, the more dissatisfied we are? I remember when I bought my TV about 10 years ago it seemed huge, but now I complain that it’s so small I can hardly see what’s on the screen. A friend loved her new job when she first got it a couple of years ago, but now she complains that it’s dull and underpaid. I once met a woman in Africa who had willingly walked for two days in the hope of paying all she had to see a doctor, while more recently I met a woman in Mildenhall who complained bitterly about a 20 minute wait for free treatment at her local surgery. I’m not criticising - quite probably if the African woman was introduced to readily-available healthcare she too would soon begin to complain at being made to wait. We all get used to good things very quickly, and we just want more. Human beings seem to be programmed to have ever-increasing expectations, and to be eternally dissatisfied with what they have.

It might sound as if I think this is a bad thing, but actually I don’t. This hard-wired discontent with the way things are is at the heart of all the progress we make as human beings. I think God gave it to us. As the dancer Martha Graham said it’s this ‘divine discontent, this blessed unrest that keeps us marching onward…’ If we weren’t discontented with illness we wouldn’t research new cures; if we weren’t discontented with world poverty we wouldn’t fight for justice. But like many things in life, this instinctive impulse can be directed in negative ways or positive ways. We can complain about things, or we can work to change them. We can get fed up or we can get motivated.

The Christian season of Lent is all about refusing to be content with the way things are. It’s about being discontented with half-heartedness and mediocrity and about pushing on towards something better. Lent is the perfect time to tap into that deep human instinct for wanting more – to live life deeper, fuller, stronger. To demand more of ourselves. To open ourselves up more to God.

People always ask me what I’m giving up for Lent. But you know what? I’m dissatisfied with just giving things up … I’m going to be discontent for Lent.