“Life is about more than counting Pringles!”
The comment from another room hovered across the house.
The girls were getting feisty about Pringles when my eldest daughter realised that her younger sister had been given a larger container of Pringles than she. The injustice of it all.
“That’s not fair, you bought her a larger container than mine”.
(While that was true, it had more to do with the younger one being the spice-lover (paprika) of the two with the more palatable version for the older one (salt & vinegar) coming in a smaller container. Both were on special, the key driver!)
All that was irrelevant at this point for an injustice had been done. Someone had more Pringles than someone else.
The voice of reason from the other room hung in there as the catalogue of possible responses seemed either lame or unsuitable.
As it hung, another thought came to mind: Pringles are just another currency.
There was no complaint from the older daughter that she’d been given Pringles. The issue was that her sister had more than her.
Yep, sounds silly. And trivial. Except that we all have a currency. And while money might often be used for comparison, it’s really just another currency. Compare talent if you want. Your birthplace. The size of your house. Your relational status. The number of children you have or don’t have. The number of your toys. Fundamentally, they’re all grounds on which you can make yourself feel worse…or better.
The problem is rarely the currency. Undeniably, some deal with a seemingly cruel hand, but it’s rarely about the currency. It’s about comparison.
Comparison is the enemy of contentment. In either direction. If I make myself feel better by finding others doing worse, surely my spectrum is sorely questionable. If I begrudge the one with more Pringles, it’s an equal but opposite problem. At its heart, it’s comparison over contentment.
It seems that the Apostle Paul had a lot of Pringles at some point. Plenty of ’em. Then he had hardly any. Somewhere along the road to Damascus, he had a resurrection encounter with Jesus, and Pringles didn’t seem to matter much anymore.
He’d later say to the church at Phillipi:
“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.”
Paul’s most profound contentment was in Jesus in who he has found strength, but there’s another thought going on there. Whether expressing a belief about plenty or need, it’s not from a context of comparison but of contentment.
The antidote to comparison is found neither by acquiring more currency or by finding someone who will, in some warped way, make you feel better because they have less. The cure is contentment. Contentment in Jesus. In relying on Him for strength and discovering (perhaps through epiphany, revelation and a resurrection encounter, like Paul) that Pringles don’t matter much, but contentment does.
Jesus says: “Seek first my kingdom and my righteousness and all these things will be added to you”.
Unsurprisingly, seeking Jesus’ Kingdom over all else isn’t a formula for getting all the Pringles you want (though perhaps they’ll be added to you!), but I have learned that it takes your eyes of whatever currency seemed essential to give a primary focus to the values and joy of a greater Kingdom.
Because, at the end of the day, what does it profit us if we get all the Pringles in the world at the expense of our soul? Pursuing God’s Kingdom, it turns out, brings the richest sort of contentment. Beyond any currency.