Almost everyone who comes to my consulting room has been in pursuit of the advantages of life, but something or someone went wrong. Their contentment and sense of self-worth or self-respect has been shattered. If their self-respect and self-worth is intact, then the loss of contentment is attributed to the behavior of an offending person or to circumstances that have shifted to one’s disadvantage.
It’s a frustrating world. Mechanical failures, impolite and careless people, social errors, noisy children, misunderstandings, and poor planning seem to make us angry–in spite of advantages. Nothing against advantages, you understand. But it is clear that advantages are just that–advantages. They, in themselves, do not produce contentment, joy, peace, or a sense of self-worth or self-respect. If you play the advantages-disadvantages game, you’ll always come up a loser.
How can you be a Christian and be contented? How can you be famous and happy? Rich and at peace with yourself? Single and content? Married and happy? Poor and still enthusiastic about life? No beauty queen, yet possess a good self-image?
Jesus gives us the key in a reply to a question put to Him by a lawyer who asked:
Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-39).
This is a surprise answer to me. The key to contentment, then, boils down to this:
1. Love God
2. Love your neighbor
3. Love yourself
In modern language, Jesus is saying that a good self-image is based on self-respect, on loving your neighbor, and on loving God.
In presenting this idea to my clients, it leaves them cold and unresponsive at first glance. Doesn’t contentment involve making enough money, getting an education, popularity, being understood, an understanding and decent marriage partner, obedient children, appreciative friends?
Your answer depends on whether you decide if Jesus knows what He is talking about. As for me, if Jesus said it, there is no need for a surveyor or research project to verify His statements.
Like my clients, your answer will not be changed by a further statement on my part that I have seen thousands of changed lives verifying Christ’s statements.
The only way for you to evaluate His advice is to take a step of faith and prove it to yourself. Take Him at His Word and launch out on your own quest to prove the truth of what He says. If you do, then commit a year, or two–or better yet, five years–to finding out.
Loving yourself begins with self-respect, a good self-image. And the first step to healthy self-respect is locating yourself in five areas: behavior, speech, reactions, thoughts, and goals.
To locate yourself, you need a reference point–a mirror–something to truly reflect and portray where you are right now. We need a reference point, a mirror, a guidebook that is consistently accurate. I’ve used such a guidebook, and in twenty-five years of counseling I’ve never found its principles to be incorrect. That guidebook is the Bible.
It’s not enough to stand in front of the mirror and see what’s wrong. We need to take calm, corrective action. James 1:23-25 tells us:
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does.
It is within your power to decide to know and keep God’s commandments. But you must renew that commitment many times a day. There will be many temptations along the way to draw you from your original commitment. The Bible contains a reassuring promise:
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).
This is an excerpt of Chapter 3, entitled Want Contentment? Make a Commitment!, from Dr. Brandt’s book, I Want Happiness Now!