I’ve been thinking a fair bit about contentment lately. I figured maybe I should get some ideas into a post when I saw this on a friend’s blog:
Blogging about Spiritual Disciplines at the moment is part of the reason I’m thinking about contentment. So many of them are informed or transformed by contentment. Prayer should be shaped by contentment. Generosity made possible by contentment. Worship amplified by contentment.
So what is contentment?
I think contentment is the ability to say, ‘enough is enough’. But I think contentment in its fulness actually goes further. Sometimes, contentment will drive us to say, ‘less than enough is enough’. Think of Paul in his letter to the Philippians.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul says that he is content in any and every situation. But this is not simply a type of self-discipline that draws on ascetic training. No, he tells his readers that, ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength‘. He can be content when he is hungry, he can be content when he is in want. And this is because of the strength he gets from God. So there’s a sense in which contentment doesn’t come from having enough, but from having God (if you’ll excuse the somewhat sloppy way of putting it).
So am I content? Well, yes and no. I may have been helped by growing up in a third world country, where people seemed often to be far more content. Hospitality shown by the poor often brought a measure of sacrifice for them, yet they were content because their priority was not themselves. I am probably a bit less materialistic than average, but that doesn’t mean I’m not sometimes am absolute sucker for material possessions. We’re pretty well off at the moment, so it can be easy to buy stuff without justifying whether it’s necessary. I try to make sure that I’ve thought things through before buying them.
But contentment isn’t just about possessions. It’s about life in all its breadth. And I suppose it is most fully enabled when we remember the future (I love the phrase, ‘remember the future’!) Whether we have two bedrooms or seven is small-fry compared to our glorious inheritance; whether we drive a Ford or a Ferrari means nothing in the light of eternity; whether we are well-known or well-hidden has little consequence in the coming kingdom; whether we are healthy or sick has no bearing on our future; whether our children are terrific or horrific, or whether we have many children or no children has nothing to do with the size of our family of believers who we’ll be spending eternity with; whether we are God’s or not is what matters. Paul had discovered that, and I want to too. I think it’s a very hard perspective to master. (I feel a bit silly writing most of those things, because I’m not really suffering much at the moment that might challenge contentment, but that’s not to say I haven’t in the past and won’t in the future. I don’t mean any of them glibly or carelessly, and am not trying to cause upset. It’s just some of the things I know have challenged or would challenge me in this area) I know about the future, but I haven’t been there yet, I haven’t experienced it, and so it’s difficult for me to see the heavy burdens of today in the light of the wonderful future that awaits me. But maybe God and I can continue to work on that together.
There are, of course, dangers here. We can disguise laziness as contentment. If we dress up laziness as a spiritual gift, it’s suddenly portayed as good thing. For example, being content with my job might be important and performing a vital ministry, or it might be a sign that I just can’t be bothered to consider if God is calling me elsewhere. Being content with my family’s relationship with God might be a desperate failure to lead them in His footsteps. Being content with my own relationship with God might just reflect a lack of effort on my part to draw closer to Him.
So I’m going to be working on contentment. I think it may take me some time.
What about you?
What helps you find contentment?
What causes you to struggle in this area?