You say ‘if I had a little more, I should be satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you will not be satisfied if it doubled.
Before we get any further into contentment, we need to identify what it is.
At the most basic level, contentment is: happiness and/or satisfaction with your situation in life.
It’s a state of mind where your desires do not extend past your current reality. You don’t long for more than what you currently have. However, that’s a rather passive, lethargic, almost defeatist attitude.
It has to be more than that.
If it is a virtue then it must be something we can grow and develop. It would seem strange to want to grow a sense of ‘well, I guess this is it.’
First, we must address a major reservation that, while unspoken, we often hold about contentment. When hard-pressed, we may feel we have good reason to not be content.
I have a harder life than others. Sure, they can be content, but my 2-year-old has leukemia. My job doesn’t meet our bills. I can never make the grades I want. My husband left me with our baby. I inherited an unfortunate body shape I can’t fix. What about all that? How can I be content?
The problem here is the assumption that we can only be content if our situation in life makes it so. We can only be content if we are happy, healthy, wealthy, in a great marriage, with kids who do no wrong. You don’t have to look far (for example, beyond yourself) to see this is not going to happen, at least not for more than a moment. If we accept the notion that this world is broken/messed-up/sinful then we would have no hope of ever being content.
There must be a better option. Some way to stay engaged in this life of problems, hurts, and disappointments, and not get dragged into a constant state of discontentment. If there isn’t, we might as well resign ourselves to just surviving, finding pleasure wherever we can in hopes that the good times outweigh the bad.
Looking back at a puritan preacher may (surprisingly) help us out here. Jeremiah Burroughs grappled with the elusive theme of biblical contentment and came to understand that:
“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”
I have no idea what his Grandmother was like, but clearly, something spurred him to reflect deeply on Biblical contentment and his thoughts are helpful for all of us. Let’s examine four points from his definition.
It’s not cumbersome, but a pleasing thing, something we enjoy. Sweet things are satisfying, they are not the burdensome parts of life we grudgingly accept. If contentment truly is sweet, we don’t need to force it down like a horrible medicine we know will eventually be good for us.
This supports the perspective that biblical contentment can’t be based on our circumstances. It’s in our core, not dependent on our environment, and not determined by our experiences. The direction of contentment is not from the outside in, but rather it flows out of a heart that knows that it can rest on God’s goodness and mercy, no matter what happens.
Frame of Spirit
A frame (of a car, house, body, etc.) is that basic, inner, structural part that gives strength and shape to the final thing. Once the frame of a building is in place, you have a limited number of options for what the final product will look like. We can gain or lose weight, increase or decrease our muscle mass, but our frame – that inner structure that we were born with – is not going to change. For Burroughs then whatever contentment is, it is something that gives structure to our spirit.
In Every Condition
This continuous, ongoing nature of contentment is what sets Biblical contentment apart. It’s not hard to feel either upbeat or defeated depending on our circumstances. However, it’s the dependable, resilient nature of contentment that makes the truly contented life different. Can we remain engaged in a crappy, broken, cynical, hurtful, hurting world and not allow that to change our outlook, our frame of spirit?
Which of those five points do you struggle with the most?
- Believing that contentment truly is sweet, and not burdensome
- Accepting that it’s inward, not based on our circumstances
- Seeing it as a frame on which other parts of our lives are built
- Thinking its even possible to be content in every situation
Think about why that is? What has caused you to struggle to accept that characteristic of Biblical contentment.
Now – keep that in mind as you move into the prayer below.
God of all mercy, goodness, beauty, love, and grace.
Lord I believe in true contentment – help my unbelief.
There are parts of biblical contentment that I honestly find hard to accept.
Some I can barely believe.
Give me your insight, your perspective, your truth.
Help me to have the heart Paul had, where I can truly say “I have learned to be content in every situation.”
And until that day comes, until you have reshaped my heart to beat like that – give me grace.
Grace for others, grace for myself.
Grace sufficient for today.