I turned 26 two weeks ago in New Jersey.
Every birthday that passes, I try to remember what Henri Nouwen once wrote about birthdays:
Birthdays need to be celebrated. I think it is more important to celebrate a birthday than a successful exam, a promotion, or a victory. Because to celebrate a birthday means to say to someone: ‘thank you for being you.’ Celebrating a birthday is exalting life and being glad for it. On a birthday we do not say: ‘thanks for what you did, or said, or accomplished.’ No, we say: ‘Thank you for being born and being among us.
(Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t wish me a happy birthday, you can still do that here…..but no pressure….)
There was a vast disparity between my birthday this year and last. This year, I was with family and felt genuinely celebrated. I felt like they valued my existence. Last year I celebrated alone after being blown off by some friends who opted to go to a bar because a basketball game was on.
It is a valuable thing to feel celebrated for existing.
The title of this post may seem to some of you like an unfinished sentence. Perhaps there should be a blank space after the words: “Being Content with Being _________.” Maybe you tried to fill in that gap with something to which you ascribe value.
I want to be content with being single.
I’m content with my job & my bank account.
Being content with being busy/at rest.
But no, there is not more to the title. I think something we can learn from birthdays is that there really is value in slowing down from time to time and being content to simply be. This is something I struggle with often, and it is a root of anxiety for many of us.
We feel like we must prove ourselves or earn our contentment. As Christians, many of us reach a mindset in which we allow ourselves to rest one day a week, but the rest of the time we are busy working for our merit, as if we are utterly useless if we are not busy.
But how many times does God command His people to be still? Dozens!
One of my favorite quotes about the Christian life is from a mystic writer named Muyskens: “The spiritual life is not about addition, it is about subtraction.” In other words, many of us try to add things to our lives in order to feel more ‘full.’ Yet in the spiritual life, the opposite is almost always true: The more we take away, the more we realize those things were just distracting us from what is truly important.
I spoke to my youth group recently about this idea of identity and compared it to what we are taught by our culture, and that if we are not careful, these notions will slip into our way of thinking too. For instance, the key line in Batman Begins is repeated a few times throughout the film: “It’s not who you are, but what you do that defines you.”
Of course, this is Bruce Wayne’s motto to prove that he is able to do more than simply be a spoiled trust fund kid. But what happens when we inadvertently apply it to ourselves? We begin to think that unless we are constantly proving ourselves or ‘doing good,’ then we are a nobody.
This is completely antagonistic to what God tells us about who we are. He tells us that before we do anything, or prove anything to Him, we are accepted and loved. We are grafted into the family of Jesus not because of what we do, but simply because He loves us as we are.
So have you taken time to just be lately?
We are certainly called to work hard, serve others, and do good. But all of our actions need to come from a place of being content at our core with who we are. If you are a Christian, your first and most important identity is a beloved son or daughter of God. All else that you do or think comes from this deep place of realized that you are loved simply because you exist.
I’m walking my youth group through Genesis 1 right now, and last night we talked about God calling everything good. The trees and oceans didn’t need to prove themselves to God before He called them good; He simply made them, saw how they were, and called them good simply because He had made them and deemed their existence good.
He does the same when He looks at us. Before you go to church or crack open your Bible, He looks at you and says, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good if I don’t say so myself! I did a good job on this one!’
Haven’t you noticed that the most comfortable, magnetic, and happy people are those who are most content with themselves? They’re not trying to brag about their latest accomplishment or slave away at their job to be considered worthy. These are the kinds of people who love life. They enjoy what they do because their brain is not fogged up by fretting about whether or not they have earned anything.
I’m working on being that person. I want to be someone who has truly become content with being, with existing, rather than someone who constantly has to impress others or God.
Some of you may be asking the question then: What kind of steps do I take in order to become that kind of person? I think the answer is simple.
Take time to just be.
Make time throughout your weeks to not make anything, prove anything, impress anyone, or even try to learn or grow. Take time to just be and in that time, you will slowly become more and more content with just being. Whether it’s sitting or walking or standing, just be.
May we be people who find our identity, first and foremost, in the belovedness of a Good Father whom we don’t have to impress. May we learn to still our minds and celebrate our own existence before trying to impress others or earn merit from the Lord.
May we become content with being.