In this post, I hope to start a series on contentment. I wrote this as much for myself as for others. My hope is that after going through this series, we can identify what contentment is and how to live a life full of it. We can also gain a better understanding of contentment versus complacency.
What is contentment?
By definition, content means freedom from worry or restlessness: peaceful satisfaction. Synonyms are happiness, gladness, gratification, and restfulness. What I gather is that contentment is not something to be achieved, but more of an attitude to have.
Why should we desire to be content?
Well, as a Christian, I can look to the Bible and find that contentment is great gain! (I Timothy 6:6) Hmmm…isn’t that interesting? Paul, in the book of Philippians, talks about being content even in hunger and while suffering need. That leads me to believe that contentment is not about achieving something, but rather trusting God to meet your needs. Having an internal peace that is satisfied by trusting in God.
Contentment doesn’t mean that you desire to stay in your less than ideal situation, but rather accepting that God has you there for a time and that he will provide a way to meet your needs in that situation. It does not mean you don’t work or strive to improve your lot in life, but rather that you are satisfied in the journey to improvement as well. Understanding that our chief goal is to serve God, and that he has given us all we need to do that right where we are.
What about complacency? Isn’t that the result of being content?
I sure thought that for a while– I couldn’t reconcile the two in my mind. Being a very driven person, the thought of contentment made me feel like I was giving up–like I needed to stop dreaming or striving in any way. However, after spending time studying this subject, I understand now that I was wrong in that thinking. Complacency is satisfaction accompanied by an unawareness to danger or deficiencies. So complacency is more of a hiding your head in the sand attitude, where as contentment is being aware of the issues, but being satisfied in the process of improving them. Attitude, attitude, attitude!
Conditions should not determine our happiness
I think age gives a person better perspective on this. I can look back on my life and easily mark the times when I was content. Guess what? Those times were not the times when we had the most money or when we were living our dream. They were times when my heart attitude was in check. In our early years of marriage we were working on paying off debt (side note, this was mostly debt that I brought to the marriage). We didn’t buy things, we didn’t eat out, we didn’t go to the movies, we pretty much went to work, came home and ate a cheap home cooked dinner. On the weekends we would go for nature hikes and splash around in the creek near our house for fun.
We lived in a little town house, we had a postage stamp sized yard, very little furniture, and we were far from any family. Quite a contrast to our life now. However, we were content. I remind myself often that I have been content with far, far less than I have now. We were content in the process of making a better life for ourselves. We weren’t complacent to live with debt, but we were happy in the process of working to improve our life.
Please understand that I know there are certainly circumstances of poverty, abuse or neglect. I realize that my perspective is different from your perspective, or someone in dire straits. However, I do believe that Paul was speaking to that in the Bible. In Jesus Christ we can find contentment, but I do not believe that means a person should grin and bear it if they are being abused in any way.
Six practical tips for having a contented spirit even in times of striving.
1. Show Gratitude: Yes, get yourself a Pollyanna attitude and find something to be glad about! If you stop and think for two seconds, I bet you can name five things to be thankful for or “glad” about. If you are a list maker and need to see this…write it down.
2. Get a change of perspective: Once you have your thankful list, think about ways that you can be happy with only the five things you wrote down. The Bible teaches us to dwell on those things that are good and lovely. So stop stinkin’ thinkin’ about what you don’t have or what could be improved and dwell on the things that are good.
3. Get a reality check: reality is not often found on social media, so quit it for a time if it is causing you to be unrealistic in your expectations for your life. This is hard, but necessary at times. Through social media we get to look at the best in everyone’s life and compare it to our present. We can see the end of their striving and compare it to our beginning.
4. Count the cost: I am a firm believer that you can do just about anything you set your mind to. However, I believe everything comes with a cost. If you look at anything someone else is doing and think…I could do that, make sure you are thoroughly educated on what it would cost you to achieve that goal. Will it be a relationship, finances, time, integrity? Always keep a realistic expectation.
5. Identify your needs versus your wants, and then answer the why. It’s not that we cannot ever have our wants. That is not what I am saying. However, I know that I am guilty of justifying a whole multitude of wants and trying to make them sound like needs. Just pausing and asking yourself, why do I want this? Helps in determining your motivation. Sometimes my answers are so lame I have to laugh at myself.
6. I put this last, but it is the most important. Rest in Jesus. Our identity, our contentment, and our peace should come from Jesus. It shouldn’t come from who we are titled at work or at home. Nor should our identity come from what we portray to others or what we have accomplished. Ultimately, our identity should come from who we are in Jesus Christ. This is where true contentment comes from.
I hope this has helped you in your understanding of what contentment is, and is not.
Over the next several weeks I would like to continue this series. My plan is to discuss contentment in our home, contentment with our self and relationships, and contentment with where we live. We will walk through each of the six points above, and practically apply them as we seek to live with a contented spirit.