“My Ongoing Desire to Be Content”
Being content can be a constant struggle. The struggle between needs and wants and even the path my life has taken cause me to wrestle with just being content in the here and now. Why can’t we do this? Why can’t we have that? Why, why, why? It’s so easy to play the comparison game when we look at the size of someone else’s house or the “perfect” things others post on social media that are not perfect in my reality.
There are so many statistics out there that are a huge reality check for me. I recently learned that the global average age at which a child receives his or her first pair of shoes is 13. Just last night, I went through my kids’ clothes and shoes and was overwhelmed by how much we have. Why am I not content? In 2012, the global median income was $1225/year. What!?! I am rich when compared to many people in our world, so why am I not content? I also just learned that in many countries, the only thing parents can give their children to take for lunch is some milk. My kids have not gone without a meal…EVER. Why do I struggle with being content?
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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. (Philippians 4:11-13)
This passage is a reminder to us from Paul about contentment, especially verse 11, in which Paul says he has learned to be content whatever the circumstances. This doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to want change, but we need to be satisfied for now until God brings the change, whether or not he chooses to.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
The word that really strikes me in this passage is “thanksgiving.” We need to be thankful. Thankfulness and contentment truly go hand in hand. When we are thankful and have talked to God about our need/desire, THEN we will find peace which leads to contentment no matter what state we’re in while we wait for God to do HIS WILL, not ours.
A book that has really helped me zone in on this idea of thankfulness leading to contentment in any situation is One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. I have it highlighted and go back to it time and again. In it, she says, “Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is neccssary to live the well, whole, fullest life.” This doesn’t sound like a life that is longing for contentment. It is a life that is content no matter what.
Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann said, “If the church is in Christ, its initial act is always an act of thanksgiving of returning the world to God.” If I want to truly be in Christ, who is my only contentment, my initial act should always be an act of thanksgiving, returning to Jesus with thanks on my lips for all that I have, from the smallest things to the biggest things.
Psalm 58:23 says, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” I need to take everything, the good and the bad in my life, and return it to Jesus in thanksgiving. When we declare these things, it is like unwrapping gifts from the one who loves me most. Without the pain, hurt, and hard times, how would we ever know the true goodness of Christ, his grace of comfort, perseverance, forgiveness, patience, and courage? These are the gifts that He gives to us when we have a thankful heart. Ephesians 1:11 says, “God makes EVERYTHING work out according to His plan.”
Another quote by Schmemann: “Now in the Bible a name reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as god’s gift…To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and the value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function withing the cosmos created by God. To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it an in it.” Naming the things in our lives that we are thankful for, small things to big things, causes us to see God in the details of everything and to see how He truly cares for us. It gives us a sense of gratitude which leads to contentment.
We all have events in our lives that can cause us to become scarred. Those scars can become tough spots which make us cynical, bitter, or angry. But when we choose to lean into the hard thing, the ugly thing, and give thanks, then it is transfigured into a thing of beauty. The perfect example is Christ on the cross. He became ugly so that we might become beautiful. Another example of something ugly turned to beauty was watching my mom slip away from us physically and emotionally as early onset Alzheimer’s ravaged her mind and body for over 10 years. There was nothing easy about that long journey. It was very ugly to watch my sweet mom waste away. But the joy of heaven’s promise of restored healing, beauty, and happiness made her passing a true blessing. I longed for the day when she would be set free from the confines of her illness. I was so happy for her to finally be healed. Her life and death made God and heaven very real to some other family members, who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will see her again.
Something that Ann Voskamp shares in her book is about making daily lists of things that we are thankful for. I have done this during different seasons of life and it really does shine light on contentment. It is a physical thing I can go back to and look at those unwrapped gifts from God. Ann says in her book, “Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.” Our hearts change. Our outlook changes. We can be content with whatever we face.
6 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. (John 6:1-11)
An ending thought: Jesus gave thanks for the little He had, and the not enough was made enough. Ephesians 5:20 reminds us, “always give thanks to God the Father for everything.”