Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mission: Contentment (The Sequel to "I Have a Problem")

I was so blessed by the responses to my last post, I Have a Problem. (Thank you to everyone who read and commented!) Though I certainly wouldn't wish my problems on anyone else, it is indeed comforting to know I'm not alone in experiencing the compulsive urge to collect books, and it's inspiring to know that this topic resonated with some of you, as well. And when I say "inspiring," I mean that I feel like this is something we can face together, something that some of you also want to do something about.

Some of you longtime followers might recall the Contentment Reading Challenge (2011, 2013). Although I created it and hosted it for two years, I never actually did very well at it, since the rules generally applied to re-reading books (and I always had so many new books to read). Funny, since I made up the rules...

But I value that state, that goal, of being content (Philippians 4:11-13). Not hating my blessings. Not depriving myself. Simply trusting and resting in the faith that God Himself is all I truly need, and fostering a spirit of gratitude for what He has given me for today.

And that last word clangs so boldly, doesn't it? Today. My tendency to stockpile books comes from an obsession with tomorrow. Every once in a while I'll actually purchase a book I intend to start right away, but so often I save up reading material for that elusive someday. And yes, sometimes those deals are pretty fabulous, I won't deny it! But like with many obsessions, the trouble isn't in the thing itself - it's in the attitude and the overdoing.

I know I'm in trouble when the simply joy is being edged out by guilt.

I'll give you a recent example:

I was checking discount opportunities for my next shopping trip (which should be more grocery shopping than anything else) when I found myself looking at the "entertainment" section and spotting a deal for 20% off a particular book. It's not like I had thought about that book much or even really wanted to read it or see the movie based on it. But the Goodreads reviews were decent, and I mean...20%! (I know.)

So I selected the deal and took my printout discount sheet with me. I spent way too long in the book/entertainment part of the store, browsing and agonizing. This one or that one? Yes or no? I finally threw it into my cart and continued on my way.

But when I got back to my apartment, I began to feel restless. I knew I didn't need that book. I knew I didn't even really want it in the same way I wanted other books. Yet the cover was so cool, and the story would probably turn out to be thought-provoking...and there was nothing wrong with wanting to read a good book. And there isn't.

Still, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling. I then agonized over whether to return it. Would I look stupid for returning an item for no good reason? Should I even make the trip to go back?

The short answer: I took it back after work the next day.

The longer answer. I was tempted not to make the effort, but I still took it back. And I still bought a Kindle book in the days that followed, once again debating between options, checking out reviews, telling myself this would be my last indulgence for a time.

To be honest, I'm just sick and tired of obsessing!

Have you come to that same place?


Dictionary.com defines "mission" in one sense as "any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed." Contentment is important, and I want to task myself with seeking it, living it. This is Mission: Contentment!

Matthew 6:20-34 speaks of storing up treasure in heaven, of serving only one master, of seeking God first and trusting Him to provide for your needs. Even though the verses discuss food and clothing, I think the heart of the passage applies to all sorts of things we worry/obsess about, and what our attitudes should be toward all "things" that don't last.

Through God's grace, I want to take steps toward being more content. Here are some of my current thoughts on what this might look like:

  1. Reading the books I own. When I'm looking to start something new, may I look to my TBR piles first. You know, I tend to justify buying new books by saying, "I'm supporting an author." True - and as an indie author myself, I certainly appreciate people like me, LOL. But what if I started supporting authors more by actually reading their books...? (This goes along with the epiphany Rissi mentioned in her comment.) What a novel thought!
  2. Stopping the stalking - of Amazon (plus entertainment sections in stores, etc.). Does that mean I can never visit them again? Of course not. I just personally need to find a better balance of my time and stop giving myself excuses. No more "it's been a long day/week/summer/fill in the blank." I need to find a different way to "reward" myself... (That probably goes for my overindulging in sweets, too, actually.)
  3. Keeping busy. I have so many awesome and meaningful things I can be doing: writing, communicating with friends and family, blogging, walking, watching the movies I own, reading the books I own, etc. When I'm tempted to obsess, I ought to redirect. Embrace today and all that I can do in these hours I've been given that I'm too often tempted to waste.
My goal isn't to make this into an endless list of dos and don'ts that I'll never be able to keep. I guess my hope is that I can use this button and hashtag (#MissionContentment) to celebrate the victories. And I wanted to invite you to join me. :) When we make a deliberate choice to enjoy something we already own or focus on something meaningful when we're tempted to obsess, we can share a smile and cheer each other on. Maybe we can theme some posts around this. (I'm thinking perhaps some "Mission: Contentment Snack Size Reviews"?)

I'm not saying this will be the fix-all for my problem. As Ashlee so beautifully put in her comment, "God is always the answer." Only through His grace can we learn to embrace the right attitudes. And only through His grace can we hold onto hope through the times that we fail. Let's lean on Him, trust in His strength, and follow His lead, seeking to value what He values.

14 comments:

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great post. I would add, be careful with Pinterest too. All those pretty covers are hard.

Christy Janes said...

Amber,

I just read your previous post, and not to sound like everyone else, but yes, I have had this SAME problem!! My house was literally overflowing with books so much that I had to start piling them on the floor next to my bookshelves. And not just 1 or 2 piles of about 10 books...more like 9 or 10 piles with 20+ in each one!

About a year ago, I finally had an epiphany that never will I EVER read all these books. And furthermore, there's a church library less than 2 miles from my house that never discards fiction, and they have SO many of the same books! I resolved to whittle down my books to a more manageable number. What started out as having over 2000 books is now around 1200. It's still a lot, but I have managed to get rid of one whole bookcase, and I no longer have books spread between multiple rooms.

What also helped was to take a step back from reviewing. I wasn't being selective enough in the choices I was making, and that resulted in WAY too many obligations that all of a sudden got to be very overwhelming. I finally stopped reviewing altogether for a year, and I've just now stepped back into the picture. I have set some pretty clear guidelines for myself, and I pray that I can stick to them.

Just know that you are not alone, and by God's grace, you can find the right balance! (Oh, and I love your hashtag reminder/motivation.) :)

Miranda A. Uyeh said...

Hey Amber,

Don't sweat it so much! Like with everything else, growth is not immediate, but a process. Eventually, you'll develop the healthy habits that will make you proud and humble you more. So proud of you, my friend! :)

PS. Lovely banner! Putting some ideas in my head. :)

Rissi said...

I'm echoing Miranda here, but yes! Don't worry overmuch about it, girl. I have a feeling, you'll find the happy medium that suits you and is the healthy book habit you're searching for - just give it some time. What you write is SO easy to relate to - you're right! We do tend to browse places with the "fun stuff" over the necessities and as you also mention, it's not that we can't ever enjoy these kind of shopping trips, it's just more of "don't do it all the time." Or if we want to, fine, but don't always walk away with a purchase. ;)

Again, wonderful post! And I love what you say about working at reading the books we DO own. That's something I've been telling myself for a good while now. I don't mind being a part of blog tours and still want to, I just need to find ways to better schedule that against giving myself time to read the books I already own... :D

Bluerose said...

I read the other post and now this one, and I'm right there with you! At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to not buy any books, so I could work on my contentment, and even blogged about it to make it more of a reality. Still, that has been a BIG FAIL.

I was reading a book earlier today that told me if I looked at any item, thinking that if only I had that one more thing in my life, it would be complete, I had an idol. Books, and gathering their stories and knowledge within my brain, has become my idol.

So, you're not alone in this tough battle! I'm praying for you. :)

Carissa Miller said...

I have the same problem of buying books when I have to many on my tbr pile. So for now I am going to only read what's in my tbr pile, or if i want to read something "new" I will check it out from my library since I work there I'm supporting my job by checking out books. Or the library at my Church.

This way I actually get my TBR pile down and my movie TBR pile watched. I am however still giving myself permission to buy books from my must read authors, because my library either never gets their books or takes too long. On Kindle Mary Lu Tyndall, I sad to admit it took me to now to start reading her books. Betsy St. Amant. Then in print Laura Frantz, Erynn Mangum. As well as anything that you publish. This should keep me from only buying about 5 or six books over the course of a year.

Laura Pol said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post Amber and actually had up on my screen since yesterday! I just didn't know what to say to it because I was afraid to actually say yes to the challenge and what that will mean! However I have decided to do it, BUT I'm excluding books for review! Hahaha! Well at least the ones I feel peace about it because I feel God has been working with me in this area anyway! However seeing your post the other day that it can represent insecurity and not trusting in Christ with always wanting more, it really hit home! I so don't want my relationship with Jesus to be that way! Thanks for sharing your challenge with others and may all of us be content in what God has given us as well as those sweet surprise blessings that leave us humble!

Amber Stokes said...

Juju,

Thank you - and YES, that is so true! I confess I saw this comment and still couldn't resist sharing a pretty new cover on Pinterest not long after. :\ And I DO tend to turn to my "Cover Candy" board when I get in the "book buying" mood. It's definitely something to realize, that Pinterest might be a pitfall for me at times, and I need to be careful. Thank you for the advice!

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Christy,

So wonderful to see your comment here! Thank you for taking the time to share about your own experiences, and to offer some encouragement. :) It's so true that at the rate I'm going - and if I don't stop collecting books (or at least so many so often) - I'm just never going to be able to "catch up" on all that I own. Already I've had too many languishing in a box these past few years, and now it's two boxes and several piles, not to mention my Kindle...

And yes, I hear you about finding a good balance with reviewing - those free books can be so incredibly irresistible!

I'll pray with you that, through God's grace, you'll be able to follow through on your commitment to be more balanced and in control with book reviewing. :) Thank you for standing by me, as well, and for being so encouraging!

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Miranda,

Thank you for the kinds words and support, my friend. :) Healthy habits and humility - that is my goal and my prayer!

And I'm glad you like the banner! Happy to hear it's sparked your creativity, as well. :)

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Rissi,

Such lovely, encouraging thoughts, dear friend! Thank you once again for helping me keep a positive perspective, and for your confidence in me. These things do take time, but I hope here on the blog and on my social media I can start to foster the attitudes I want to adopt. :)

Grateful for your support - and for that epiphany I can so relate to, about needing to catch up on the books I already own!
*Hugs*

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Bluerose,

And I can so relate to this comment! Even after posting this, I've found myself on Amazon and even purchased a book (at an event, so I don't really feel guilty about it except for the fact that it goes against what I was talking about in this post!). *sigh*

I guess we do have to be careful to avoid those extremes of not doing something AT ALL, because then it becomes all about a list of rules for ourselves and things to avoid, and I think it's hard to foster a happy attitude when you're feeling stressed and held back, maybe... But nurturing the gratitude in our hearts and trying to keep things in a healthy perspective and balance - well, it seems like a good goal. :)

I have definitely felt that way about books, where I just want one more, and then I'll start being content. Never works, sad to say! So yes, that's where books took on a bad role in my life. :(

I'm grateful for your prayers, and I'll pray for you, as well! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this and telling me I'm not alone. *Hugs*

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Carissa,

That sounds like a really good plan, and I hope that it works out for you in terms of enjoying the books you own and feeling better about your habits. :) And I'm so touched and flattered to be included on your list of must-buys! That is so very sweet of you. Please don't ever feel pressured to buy my books - but please also know that I'm grateful for your kind and loyal support. ♥

Thank you for the comment!

~Amber

Amber Stokes said...

Laura,

Aww, I'm glad that this post encouraged you! And your comment has really encouraged me. My hope with this hashtag/challenge is to celebrate steps in the right direction, and to foster a healthy and positive attitude about these book blessings in our lives. :)

I totally hear you about continuing to review books because God is using you through that! I think that's an important thing to remember, that there are two sides to this issue - by going cold turkey, we might miss valuable opportunities to support authors, to come alongside them and encourage them, help spread the word about their books, etc. Plus, it would be too extreme in the other direction to avoid books when blogging is part of your ministry and/or you work with books for a living. :) There's a balance, and I think it comes down to attitude. I really want to keep things in perspective and lose the anxiety that fuels my impulse buys and bad browsing habits.

Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and for joining me in this Mission: Contentment! ♥

~Amber