What Popeye Taught Me About Finding My Personal Vision

Popeye the Sailor Man was one of my favorite cartoon characters as I growing up in my early childhood. Not only did I love his sailor accent, but also I admired his unwavering focus to save his significant other Olive Oyl against those trying to threaten her well-being. Before he would exterminate his opponents, he would swallow a can of spinach and his body would transform itself into a hulk-like figure. He would proclaim the phrase, “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more.” (As you can see, Popeye had an incredible command of English)

Willow Creek senior pastor and author Bill Hybels writes with pastoral fluency that everyone needs to find his/her “Holy Discontent” – a moment where our passion and purpose intersects. Hybels also describe this as the “Popeye Moment.” Popeye couldn’t stand anybody threatening the well-being of his beloved Olive Oyl. Anything that compromised this became a firestorm of frustration for him. What about you? What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, get near it, you just can’t stand?

Holy Discontent is when you experience an uneasy spirit about the brokenness of this world which aligns with the heart of God that spurs us to take positive action to change the world.  Were you able to answer the previous question? Everyone has something that causes each and one of us to feel uneasy about. Something that will dislike and frustrate. What is yours?

  • For Moses – it was the misery of God’s people.
  • For David – it was Goliath trash-talking His God and his people.
  • For Nehemiah, it was people mocking God.

Here are two historical individuals who live their life committing to their Holy Discontent. 

Martin Luther King

King became famous because of something he couldn’t stand. He couldn’t stand all the racial oppression he witnessed in the United States in the 50s and 60s. He couldn’t stand the lynching of black people. He couldn’t stand the fact that blacks had to sit in the rear of the bus. A day arrived when King could stand it no longer. He experienced his Popeye moment and became determined that he would devote the rest of his life to moving our nation toward racial equality. He knew that his holy discontent may very well cost him his life. And it did~one evening in April 1968 when a sniper assassinated him outside a Memphis hotel. But his legacy remains.

Mother Teresa
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, Mother Teresa was just an ordinary geography teacher in Calcutta. Every morning on her way to teach at St. Mary’s High School, she passed deplorable conditions of the street people. These people were homeless, diseased, and destitute. Seeing their plight every
day brought her to a point where she could stand it no more. She had her Popeye moment and began functioning in the solution mode. She and a few of her former students began rescuing men, women, and children who had been rejected by hospitals and who were literally dying on the streets. In 1950, she received permission from the Vatican to begin the Missionaries of Charity. The order grew to more than four thousand nuns who have devoted their lives to caring for refugees, victims of epidemics, the impoverished, and the disabled. “Mother Teresa didn’t 
devote herself to this cause because of a fat paycheck every month; she served the under-resourced people in her midst because her holy discontent had her by the throat and wouldn’t let her go.” (source: Christian book summaries)

Now, if you are struggling to identify a firestorm of frustration, it’s okay. Be patient and approach this matter prayerfully. Ask God to grant you wisdom and discernment to those issues that you are addressing.
Francis Bacon remarked “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” As I was reading Holy Discontent, I needed time to chew and digest the key message. I had to reduce the pace of my reading to reflect how my life. I started asking myself, “Why do I do all I do?” “Why am involved in serving non-profit organizations, leading the diversity council at work, participating in a leadership development program, and writing a book?” Behind the apparent, superficial benefits, what is it that is truly causing me to become engaged in these activities?
After nights and nights of thinking about this, I came up with three Holy Discontents:
  1. Young leaders failing to live out their calling and living on an autopilot mode. 
  2. Toxic workplace cultures which disengages employees and inhibits growth and learning.
  3. Poor leadership that fails to catalyze and  inspire people to dream bigger and grow bigger.

Just the sheer attempt of articulating the Holy Discontent has clarified my thinking and prioritized my life. It gave a sense of passion and purpose, a greater meaning that I am here to do more than make money and name for myself. 

We ought to turn to the Scripture as it tell us the “why.” Ephesians 2:10 states, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We are all created to do good works. Hybels is right when he says, “God planted certain seeds in your soul that he remains wholeheartedly committed to watering, growing, and making into something meaningful if you will let him.”

If you have not discovered your Holy Discontent yet, I encourage you to look at these organizations and start exploring how you might discover your Holy Discontent. 

Lastly, check out this short clip where Bill Hybels talk about “Holy Discontent.”