Why I am No Longer Trying to be Happy – Seven Thoughts on Contentment

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13 New International Version (NIV)

Why I am No Longer Trying to be Happy.

Seven Thoughts on Contentment

When asked about what they really want for their lives, many people will respond that they want to be happy.  And for a long time I would probably answer that question the same way.  However, I have discovered that while it sounds like a great answer, seeking happiness has some real problems.  Happiness is often subject to a variety of exterior factors.  This often makes happiness quite fleeting.

The dictionary defines happy as “delighted, please or glad, as over a particular thing.”  The problem is once that particular thing is gone, the happiness often disappears with it.  This leads to the emotional roller coasters on which most of us live our lives.  We continually move between ecstasy and agony.  While I recognize that some of this is unavoidable, I have come to realize that the issue is our attempt to seek this fleeting idea of being happy.  I am now no longer seeking happiness, but instead, I am trying to gain contentment.  Unlike happiness, contentment is defined as the state of being satisfied and having a mind at ease.

Contentment is not easy; in fact, it is often quite a struggle.  Happiness can appear out of nowhere.  Even people who consider themselves unlucky eventually have something good come along that makes them feel happy.  And most of us have those things come along quite regularly.  While the old adage might remind us that the sun does not shine on the same dog’s butt every day, it also reminds us that eventually the sun shines on everyone, no matter what we do or do not do.

However, contentment is different from this – it relies on no one but you.

As I have begun to recognize and struggle with this truth, I have discovered several rules that are helping me in my efforts to achieve contentment.  I hope by sharing them, they may help you to find a life of satisfaction where your mind is truly at these.

Please note that while I am phrasing these statements in terms of “you,” that these questions are the ones I ask myself daily.

  1. You are responsible for your own joy. No one can create your joyful life but you.  It is not up to your spouse or parents or siblings or friends or colleagues or boss or spiritual adviser.  It is up to you.  If you want a joy-filled life then it is up to you. Henri Nouwen reminds us that, “joy does not simply happen to us.  We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

What will be those things that bring you joy, again is up to you. Everyone finds joy in different area. Some find that joy in doing triathlons – that is not me. Others find it in gardening or music or cooking or in many other ways! The possibilities are limitless, and while I cannot even start to guess what your joys will be, I can offer one thing that I have always found to bring joy. This is the joy found in service to others. If you are not sure where to start in finding your own joy, start by simply giving of yourself. I assure you that it will bring joy.

And finding joy is the starting point for creating a life of contentment.

  1. You are responsible for your own growth. Your growth personally, professionally, and spiritually is up to you and your efforts. If you want to improve at your work, you need to find those professional development activities that will help you grow. If you want to be better at your hobby, then you need to practice and push yourself. Want to get closer to God? Then you must set aside time from prayer and scripture and worship.

As human beings, we are at our best when we are striving and growing. It is why we are explorers. It is why we are inventors. Contentment of the heart and soul means we are never content with where we are. Alas, we either grow or die.

  1. You are responsible for your own health and wellness. Exercise, proper nutrition, getting the sleep you need, brushing and flossing, getting checkups, taking prescribed medications, and taking time to engage in mindfulness are all up to you. Certainly there are supports available for all of these things both from others and even apps on your phone! However, at the end of the day it is up to you.

While an app can remind you to brush your teeth, doing so is up to you. Scheduling workouts is great but showing up and doing them requires your effort. Support groups and counseling require you to both show up and follow through with the advice.

The choice about all of this is yours and mine. In John’s Gospel, Jesus asked the paralyzed man if he wanted be well. I often imagine that question is one God is asking me. Do I really want to be well – if so I know what to do – the question is do I really want to do these things. Do I really want to be healthy enough to find contentment?

  1. You are responsible for how you see the world.

Are you grateful or are you bitter?

Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?

How you view life is up to you.

If you want to find the bad, it is always available.

I must admit this is probably the area I struggle with the most. I struggle with finding possibilities in the midst of problems. Yet I recognize this is a key area for my own growth.

Now I am not saying to go out and buy a set of rose-colored glasses. But finding the potential in times of troubles is what contentment is all about. Making choices to find hope is essential to a full life.

  1. You are responsible for creating your own vision. Too many people go around from day to day with no direction – no vision. Scripture reminds us that where there is no vision the people perish.

To find contentment you must find a vision, set goals, and create a plan. Your vision may change over time and it can be very simple. In fact, the speaker and author John Gordon encourages an individual’s visions to be just One Word. Whatever your vision is, make it easy to remember and worthy of your effort.

Having a vision will be a powerful step towards a contented life.

  1. You are responsible for being part of a culture that provides affirmation.

Business leaders often remind the managers they work with that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without a culture that provides positive energy, your strategies will always struggle. A life of contentment will be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

You must find those people who help you to be your best. Those people will also bring you joy. They will help you see a hopeful future. It is as your parents said – choose your friends wisely.

Sadly, this will sometimes mean moving on from those who are hurtful and not helpful.

And sometimes it may be hard to find those who are on similar paths.

Nevertheless, just as a bad apple can spoil the bushel, one negative relationship can prove to be a disease on your soul.

  1. You are responsible for discovering your whys.

The whys are the big questions of your life. Often you will need to ask them again and again in order to find the bottom line real and truthful answer.

It is essential to keep asking why as you make decisions. If the answers fit your vision, help you grow, and bring you joy, then you are on the right track to helping find your state of contentment. If it does not, then odds are you need to do something else.

Contentment is like sitting on a quiet beach and watching the sunrise or rocking a newborn who has curled up in your arms. It is a feeling that you wish would never end.

This is what I encourage you to seek. It will bring peace to your life and allow you to face both good times and bad times with grace and hope and joy.

A Prayer about Medical Care

O Lord for those of us who complain about having to wait in rooms with heating and air, cushioned chairs, and big screen TV’s in order to see highly qualified doctors. While forgetting about the millions who will never see a physician. Forgive us.
We dread mammograms, colonoscopies, physicals and fasting blood work while the idea of preventative care is unknown to so many. And fasting overnight is not a choice but a condition of one’s life. O Lord forgive us.
We grumble about nurses waking us up in the night as they make their rounds to provide care while so many lie alone each night dying.
We object to orders to rest and heal and take our medication while so many will never heal from injuries to their bodies and wounds to their souls.
We whine about co-pays and deductibles while so many die each day from diseases that are curable if you only have the money.
O God have mercy on us.
Help us to be grateful for all the gifts we have been given.
Allow us opportunities to help those in need of care.
Give us the courage to advocate for those who have been forgotten
– for those whose pain we would rather not see.
– who cries we would rather not hear.
And as we remember the amazing grace we have be given – may we seek to share that grace in both our words and actions – so that your world might become one where all of your children are given the compassion that was demonstrated to us by your son Jesus Christ – in whose holy name we pray.
Clay Gunter
June 28, 2017

A Prayer for the End of the Day

As the sun falls on another day and the stars emerge from the darkness, Lord hear our prayer.

We have worked and we have tried.
We have sought and we have struggled.
We have won and lost.
We have seen victory.
And we have failed.
We have felt joy and sorrow.
We have laughed and we have cried.
And we have needed your grace.

So as we close the day.
We give thanks. We offer gratitude.
And we pray for you forgiveness.

Gives us now rest that we may wake to the beauty of anther day of your creation. May we wake to do your work in hopes that your will may be done.

Clay Gunter
June 20, 2017

Some Rules for Teachers when Communicating with Parents

1. Be Proactive – make the first call. Make a call anytime there is something going on in your room a parent might need to know about. Share everything all the time. It is hard for a parent to call the administration and complain that the teacher is reaching out too much.

2. Speak with Kindness…Remember you are talking about someone’s flesh and blood. Speak kindly and with great respect. Use very good manners. Remember to address parents as “Mr.” or “Ms.” until they tell you otherwise. Kindness is the most important thing to remember.

3. Be honest, but remember that the parent may not agree with you. Speak the truth…with kindness…but do not ask the parent to agree with you. Maybe the child cannot sit still in your room but does at home. Many times, you can avoid conflict by saying, “I see this” or “this happens with me.” (I statements rock!)

4. Document, document, document…you must note every conversation and communication…there are lots of ways to do it from apps on phones to paper and pencil…choose whatever method you want—just do it.

5. Make a point to call with good news…try to make one positive call every school day. This way when the time comes for a concern, the parent will know you are also seeing the good in their child.

6. If a conflict is inevitable in a face-to-face meeting, be sure other people are in the room. Another teacher…a counselor…an administrator. It’s not just about safety in numbers; it is also about having someone less emotionally involved to keep it focused on the child/student.

7. If whatever you need to tell a parent will take more than a couple of paragraphs, or if you aren’t sure how it might be received, then DO NOT USE EMAIL. Either call or do the face-to-face meeting.

Bonus – Keep your admins and supervisors up to date – especially when conflict is occurring. Admins would rather have too much information than not enough.

The Most Important Thing a School Administrator Can Do

I was recently asked what one thing I would tell a new school administrator that they should do to support the staff they work with each day.

Now I am sure some folks could give impressive statements about unpacking standards, interpreting data, or recognizing which interventions provide the most impact for student achievement. The idea would be that helping teachers with efficacy is the very best thing and administrator can do for the entire School community.

Others might say helping teachers take care of themselves and their mental and physical health is the most important thing an administrator can do. Or perhaps that helping teachers to feel supported in both word and deed is of central importance. Or maybe doing the very best that one can do to keep “nonsense” things off of the teacher’s desk if they can be handled in the office so that teachers can concentrate on teaching and not paperwork.

Now each of these things is important and could be the correct answers to the question. I am also sure that there are other ideas far more impressive than what I have considered that could be noted however none of these are my answer.

My answer probably sounds quite simple and I guess that it is but the one thing that I would tell an aspiring school administrator that they should do for their staff is simply this…

Pray for them!
Pray for them every day.
Pray they have patience and wisdom and strength and enthusiasm.
Pray they show tenderness and mercy.
Pray they share compassion and love
Pray they listen with their heart.
Pray they have courage.
Pray they teach boldly!
Pray they push each child to become their best.
Pray they help students learn and that they teach students to love learning.
Pray they remember to take care of themselves and their own families.
Pray for their health – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Pray for them as individuals.
Pray for them by name.
Pray for their unique needs.
To offer these prayers you must get to know the people you work with.
You must learn about them and their families.
Their past and their present.
Their hopes and their dreams.
You must be available.
You must seek conversations.
You must take time to be present.
You must listen. Listening not to respond, but to really hear.
And then you must pray…every day.

There are a lot of other things a good administrator should do for those whom they have been entrusted to serve.

But the most important thing I do (and that I doubt most of my staff even know about) is pray.
And that is what I would encourage any school administrator to do – be they new or old.

As in so doing you will connect in a very different way.

And you will remember that any impact you have and, any leadership you provide comes not from you, but from a partner located in a place much higher than your building, the district office, or even the state department of education.

And I would tell any aspiring administrator God is the very best partner anyone can have.

Why I must support #BlackLivesMatter

I am a member of the privileged class.

I am a white male. I am a college-educated professional…a member of the middle class who works a white-collar job with benefits. I am a married with kids…heterosexual and a Protestant Christian. I am a US citizen. This is my reality…my world. And I live and work in a world with folks similar to me.

None of this is my fault. It’s genetics and birth; thus it is luck.

I can give myself some credit for not screwing up the advantages I received at birth, but that is about it. Yes, I did some work and made some good choices. There are those whose terrible choices screwed up the same advantages I have had from birth. But before I pat myself on the back too much, I also must admit my advantages included systems and safety nets that helped keep me on the right path and helped me to succeed.

However, when I think of these advantages I have, it causes me to struggle. I struggle to remember that the world I live in is not the “real world” for most…that our society is anything but equal and just. And if I don’t intentionally look outside my bubble, I fall into the trap that movements like #BlackLivesMatter are really the problem.

Fortunately (or really unfortunately), I don’t have to look hard to see that my world view is not the view for our nation.

Recently though, this reminder that my world view comes from the perspective of privilege happened by accident.

I was doing research on poverty in America. And the things I found reminded me that we still have a long way to go if we are to be a nation where liberty and justice are to be reality for all.

The United States has over 9.8 million children living in poverty. This is over 21% of the children in America. That number is definitely sad and disturbing. But it gets even worse, and indeed points to the fact that we are anything but a fair society.

Statistics don’t lie –
The poverty rate of White children is 12.3%.
The poverty rate of Hispanic children is 31.9%.
The poverty rate of African-American children is 37.1%.
Put simply, if you are born black instead of white, there is a better than 300 percent chance you will enter the world in poverty. As a white person that bothers me, but if I were a person of color, I’d be angry.

And if I were black and discovered that 1in 106 white men were in prison, but that 1 out of 15 black men were incarcerated, and that the greatest factor of conviction and a sentence of jail time is poverty—then I would be mad as hell. (FYI 1 out of 36 Hispanic men are in jail.)

So the odds are simply this: if I am born a person of color, I have a far greater chance of being poor and spending time behind bars.

Now I know I can’t change who I am. I am the demographic I have described. However, I can remember that my privilege provides an opportunity. It provides an opportunity to speak up for those who do not have the same advantages I have had since birth. It gives me the opportunity work to for justice, so that one day Dr. King’s Dream might become an actuality. It affords me the opportunity to remind the world I am in, that while the Edmund Pettus Bridge may have been crossed, the bridge that will transform our nation into an oasis of freedom and justice still stretches before us. And when I hear folks speak the language of hate and intolerance based on ignorance of a world they don’t know and will never experience, I can share what I do know—that as long as some are born in privilege and some with a handicap based on the color of skin pigmentation, we must do better in both word and deed and know that before it is only #all lives matter, that #Hispanic and #Black Lives and #all of those with disenfranchised lives must matter.