I have realized recently how much deeper my state of contentment has grown over the past few years. Some of that is due, I’m sure, to the fact that our life has gotten easier (by many measures) since the end of Chris’ residency. I struggled more with finding contentment when I was worried about paying our bills all the time. So in that regard, feel free to ignore everything I say on this matter. Maybe, a little voice in the back of my head nags, I’m only content because our finances have improved. Maybe I don’t have a right to speak on this matter at all, it says, because I’ve certainly not mastered it!
But then, on the other hand: I know there are people whose income dwarfs ours, who do not feel content. And my inner sense of satisfaction and happiness is so much broader than only being content with the stuff we have. So I think it would be unwise and unfair to say that’s the only thing which impacted my level of contentment. A different little voice – this one from somewhere deeper inside than just the back of my head – tells me that I can speak from where I stand. So from the very start, let me be plain: I know I’m not at the end of this long road! But I’m further down the path than I used to be, so I want to share what I’ve learned so far and encourage you if you’re walking this way.
Here’s what I know for sure. I’m full of hope that one day, I can state with Paul:
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. Philippians 4:11b-13
I think that most Christians, if we’re honest with ourselves, feel a little intimidated by this passage. The Apostle Paul has been arrested, jailed, and mistreated and can still proclaim that he has learned to be content in all circumstances? Jeepers, mister, I get uncomfortable when I notice the neighbor’s new car (or grill, or playset, or well-behaved children). It’s easy to think that if we don’t have that unassailable level of smooth contentment now… we never will.
Throughout God’s Word, we hear the message of sanctifying and redeeming grace. As with other aspects of our character and inner life, contentment is a product of the Holy Spirit working within your heart and mind; it is not something we can force ourselves to have by the power of the will. A vague, simple wanting (I wish I could just be happy!) won’t generate deep contentment. You might be able to produce complacency all on your own! But for true and lasting contentment, you need the Help of your Savior.
So, what has been at work in my heart? Over the past four years, God has taught me so much about four vital principles:
As I have reflected on contentment the last few days, I realize that each of these attitudes had a direct impact on my feelings of being content. Initially, I thought I could put everything I wanted to say in one post. But you know me: I’ve always got words to spare. Watch for upcoming posts on the four building blocks, and join the conversation by commenting or tweeting #contagiouscontentment.