One thing we must make very clear is that real, authentic contentment is not the same as mere apathy. Being content is not equal to feeling like you just don’t care.
Apathy is thinking that you can’t do anything that will matter or change the outcome. It is not even wanting to try. It’s a sense of ‘why bother’ or even ‘who cares.’
If we believe that contentment is close to complacency or apathy, we want nothing to do with it. We have all been taught that busyness is one of the highest goals in our culture, therefore not doing something is about one of the worst things we can (not) do. We don’t want to be ‘that guy’ – the lazy one, the one who free-rides in groups, the one who never carries her load, the one who others have to make up for. Perhaps worse than being that person, we REALLY don’t want people to think we’re that person.
This is maybe the single hardest distinction for many of us in the entire realm of contentment. What is the difference between saying “I am satisfied with what I have” (contentment) and saying “I won’t make any effort” (apathy)?
A significant difference, which also explains how we can paradoxically remain content and upset, requires us to differentiate who is suffering.
There is a huge difference between being wrecked by the plight of the AIDS orphan; empathizing with the struggles of the refugee; understanding the sufferings of the inner-city working poor or the single-mom – and bemoaning our own situation. There is a big difference in our approach to suffering if it is our own or somebody else’s.
When we moan and whine about what we don’t have (or what we do have) we are discontent. That’s a bad thing because we aren’t seeing all the good given to us, the grace and mercy shown to us, and the hope we have. However, when we see suffering and merely think “well, that’s too bad, I guess it’s the hand that was dealt…” we are being apathetic towards suffering in our world.
There are so many passages in the Bible that are clear and direct about how we should care for the poor, neglected, the foreigner, the sick, the prisoner, the widow, the orphan. If we just say “sorry, I’m kind of content with my life right now- I don’t want to be brought down with your misery” we are directly disobeying what God has asked us to do.
There is no way we can look at the Christian scriptures and assume that we are not supposed to be upset by the crappy things that happen in our world.
There is also a difference between being upset when we suffer injustice, and being discontent that we don’t have more of something good. We should be upset when we are betrayed, we should seek restoration when we are wronged. We should not confuse that thirst for justice with a thirst for more things we like (comfort, status, etc.).
What is real contentment? Well, that’s still to follow – but for now, I hope it’s more clear that whatever contentment is – it is not apathy. We must keep a raging fire against injustice, and be torn by violence, and be upset by betrayal. But we must not confuse that indignation against evil with a lack of contentment.
We must somehow be paradoxically content with the good we have, and upset with the evil around us.
Go watch this video. Maybe not right this second. Do it when you have a chance, to sit, ignore other things – and actually listen.
grant me strength to not lose heart,
to not give up,
to not lose sight of the good,
to not turn away from the bad.
Don’t let my desire for contentment make me blind to suffering
and may my heart for peace not allow me to ignore violence.
Give me a heart that rests in You alone,
but that still breaks for the things that break your heart.