“Peaceful satisfaction”. That is the definition in a student dictionary of the word “contentment”. Contentment has come up in front of me three different times today. I figured that warranted digging a bit deeper and giving it some earnest thought.
The first mention of contentment came from the daily devotional on my iPhone’s Bible app (which I highly recommend for those wanting the Bible at their fingertips, literally). The verses were from the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “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.” These are words from a man who experienced imprisonment, beating, and shipwreck, to name a few challenges, all in the name of sharing the good news about Jesus. The “him” who gave Paul this peaceful satisfaction, no matter the circumstance, was of course Jesus Christ. How else could anyone be satisfied in such dismal and desperate situations? For those who follow Jesus and seek to live out his calling to us, it is enough for us to know we are living worthily of that calling–even if life looks very little like what we might have imagined or hoped. Though most of us will not have the hardships that Paul faced, life is full of disappointments and surprises. To what, or whom, do we run to when nothing makes sense? Conversely, how do we process abundance and attempt to be good stewards of what we’ve been given? Are we insatiable, or do we feel that peaceful satisfacation?
The second time contentment came up was mere hours from when I read about it early in the morning. God has ways of preparing us for things without our even knowing it! Our 7-year old son has accumulated a nice amount of money for a kid from birthday gifts and rewards for good report cards. He has spent virtually none of it. This morning, he asked me if he could buy a moderately priced toy with some of his money. His birthday was just two months ago, and there are toys he received as gifts that he has not even opened yet. He also picked out a new toy with a gift card barely a month ago–and hasn’t played with that one all that much, either. I wouldn’t say he is ungrateful, but I would say that he has way more toys than he knows what to do with, and that we have needed to “weed out” some of the ones he’s outgrown for quite some time. With all this in mind, I told him that he would not be able to pick out a new toy until he, his dad, and I had a chance to sit down and make a good plan for his money: we needed to work out how much he should save, how much he could spend, and how much he ought to give away to help others in need. He kind of bristled at this plan, and I could tell he just really wanted to pick out something new right then–even though we had no plans to go anywhere that day where there might be toys! As I tried to explain things to him, I realized how much I am like this, too–I love getting new things, especially clothes. It’s not that I dislike what I have, or don’t fit into things anymore, but I enjoy the freshness of a new item and find it hard to turn down a great bargain. I told him, though, that if I bought something new every time I saw something I liked, I wouldn’t have room for anything! I feel that way about his toys, too. We are reaching capacity. That conversation went so many different ways, as we talked about stewardship, compassion, economics, society, wisdom, and of course contentment. I long for him to learn contentment–and yet as I say that, I know that the reality is in that word “learn”. It won’t be an overnight realization, or even something that he will know in the next few years. I can’t expect a 7-year old to be content, but I know he must grow, too. How do we open his eyes to the rest of the world, teach him to see how truly privileged he is, foster a compassion for those who lack the basics of life, guide him in using his blessings to bless others? And, how was I supposed to have a meaningful conversation with him about all of these things during a 20-minute car ride with his chatty sister next to him? How was I supposed to get him to see beyond the toy that he was still fixated on and open his heart to seeing the much bigger picture?
Contentment reference number three came from a high school friend with whom I recently reconnected. Upon looking at some pictures of mine, she said I had a look of contentment. I was flattered, and humbled, as I thought of how many “me” thoughts I have to take to God every day, sometimes every hour. I thought of how hungry I feel sometimes for my husband’s time and attention…how much I yearn for more things that are just for me, like a run, a walk, an evening out with girlfriends, a nap…I thought of how often I catch myself not being content. Her kind comment made me take a good look at my heart–could I honestly say that I am “peacefully satisfied”? As long as I stay in a posture of prayer, as long as I counter complaints with gratitude, as long as I keep my eyes on my God who never changes, then yes, I can say that I not only look content, but I also am content.
I believe the three are closely intertwined: I will be able to help my children learn contentment as I continually and constantly learn it myself, and I will be able to do so only when my heart is anchored to “him who gives me strength”.