“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” Socrates
“be content with what you have, for he has said ‘Never will I leave you or forsake you’.
Hebrews 13 v 5
Contentment is a rare commodity nowadays. People may talk about having fun, being busy or feeling stressed but the ‘c word’ is seldom mentioned.
How often have you been to a dinner party where someone will freely admit to being perfectly satisfied with their limited wardrobe, their dated furniture or their tiny kitchen? If they did would anyone believe them?
Contentment is noticeably absent in the wider popular culture. The life to which most aspire, if the glossies are to be believed, is more frenetic than relaxing. FOMO (fear of missing out) pitches us into a restless pursuit of the next experience or purchase rather than enjoying the present moment.
In the consumer utopia, happiness is always just round the corner; if you will just buy another product, go on another holiday, watch this, play this and so on. The rainbows end of contentment remains endlessly just out of our reach; always promised never fulfilled.
Although it is a common theme in the New Testament contentment is rarely presented (in my experience) as a lifestyle to aspire to. Jesus promise in John 10 v 10 about living life to the full is often understood as a reason to accumulate more possessions or more experiences. However Jesus was talking about God’s life in us as an overflow: if we have more than we need we give it away. If we are content with what we’ve got we can be joyfully generous to others; life spills over.
It’s important to clarify that there are some things we should never be content about. Injustice and the plight of others should always rouse us out of our comfort zone. We should never be content with a mediocrity in our morals, our spirituality or our commitments: Paul reminds Timothy that it is contentment plus godliness that brings great gain (1 Tim 6 v 6). And if we lack the basic necessities of life such as food and clothing (1 Tim 6 v 8) contentment can hardly be expected.
So what does radical contentment look like?
Here are some clues to look for:
- If everyone’s doing it you’ll find the contented doing the opposite. When the whole world is heading to the High Street or trawling through online comparison websites, the contented are heading for a pleasant walk in the countryside with friends. When all your neighbours are dreaming about upsizing, the contented may well be thinking of moving to a smaller property. Who needs even more debt, more cleaning, more maintenance, more hassle, they say?
- The contented might be hard working but will avoid overwork. They may be ambitious but will not be driven.
- The contented may well be earning more money than their cars or the contents of their homes might suggest.
- The contented can be strangely ambivalent when offered a promotion. If its in line with their passion, calling and gifting; then great. If it’s not and it’s likely to rob them of precious time with family, friends or God; then ‘thanks but no thanks’.
- The contented aren’t anxious about their possessions. To them, everything is God’s gift, is looked after by God and is available to share with others. So there’s nothing to get stressed about.
- The contented take as much pleasure in God’s free gifts of sun, trees, bird song, a mountain or life itself than of anything they need to pay for.
- The contented are often very simple in their tastes. They avoid the ostentatious, the fashionable, and the ‘must have’. They are more drawn to things full of personal meaning and beauty.
- The contented don’t feel the need to cram that much into every day. They take pleasure in doing fewer things really well.
In a future blog I’ll look more closely at how we can build radical contentment into our daily lives.
In the meantime try and think of someone you know who oozes contentment and ask yourself ‘why’? What is he or she doing, or not doing, differently to the crowd? Ask them directly about their habits, goals and priorities.