“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.” ~Philippians 4:12
I’ve been thinking a lot about contentment lately. Maybe it’s because it is the month that we traditionally give thanks for the blessings in life. My thankfulness posts have had me reflecting on that subject often this month. I’ve learned something important in those contemplations. Maybe realized is a better word.
I have realized how quickly we as humans become discontent.
Now, I am not pointing fingers at anyone. Maybe you are a human who has been able to escape discontentment. Perhaps you are very satisfied with all you have and you desire nothing more out of this life. Perhaps, like Paul, you have learned the secret to being content in any and every situation. If this paragraph describes you, then reading the rest of this will probably be a waste of your time. If this truly does describe you, may I suggest that you are quite blessed?
For everyone else, like me, who has yet to learn to be content in any and every thing, perhaps there is hope since others have mastered this. We know that Paul managed to be content. Although, we must make note of the word “learned” in Paul’s sentence.
When you learn something, it implies that at one time you did NOT know that thing. I once did not know how to read. Then, I was taught the code (alphabet) and I learned how to decipher that code to make words. Voila! A love of reading was born. I once did not know how to balance my checkbook. Oh wait. I still don’t have that one learned yet.
Anyway, we can see from Paul’s statement that contentment is learned behavior. It does NOT come natural to us. In fact, the world we live in today does everything opposite of teaching us contentment–and it starts at a very young age, especially this time of year.
Television commercials bombard children with images of toys that do amazing things–dolls that talk, play kitchens that do everything short of cook real food, toy guns that shoot Nerf darts hundreds of feet. These are marketed so that children begin to think they HAVE to have these latest things or they simply cannot be happy. Play Station 4 is now available. Imagine inviting friends over for a sleepover and only having Play Station 3 for them to play Madden 2014! How embarrassing would that be?
It isn’t just children who are targets of the arrows of discontentment. Brand new Lexus’ with BIG red bows tied on them tell us that the Ford we are driving just isn’t good enough. Kindle Fire is new and improved and now the Kindle that your wife bought you last year is sooo outdated. Of course you need the new one. Every hour the television or radio is being piped into our eyes and ears we are being fed the idea that what we have isn’t good enough because something new and improved has come along.
I’m ashamed to admit that I battled this myself last week. I needed to run a quick errand in town. The only vehicle available to me that day was the car my husband normally drives. He had taken my van so our daughter could use the car to get to school. Only, she didn’t end up going to school because she wasn’t feeling well. As I turned the key and started the 2004 Dodge Stratus and listened to it loudly “purr”, I begin to think how much I wished I had my 2012 Dodge Caravan back. As I thought about my thinking, I realized there was a time I would have been THRILLED to just have a vehicle at all. For the first several years of our marriage, I did not have one at all. It wouldn’t have bothered me that the car was a bit loud or that it didn’t have an MP3 jack or that it sat lower to the ground than I prefer.
Discontentment sets in quickly, and if we allow it to stay too long, it quickly turns into a spirit of ungratefulness. Our eyes are taken away from what God has blessed us with and instead are on what we WISH God would bless us with.
There is hope, though. Humans are intelligent beings by design. Most of us can learn things that we need to learn to accomplish the jobs we’ve been given to do. Paul was human like us, and he learned to be content in plenty and in want. If Paul can learn it, then certainly I can as well. Just like learning to read didn’t happen in a minute, learning contentment will not either, especially with the onslaught of a society that repeatedly tells us we don’t have enough. It will take a willingness to give up what we want and desire in exchange for what God wants and desires for us. Hint–they may not be the same things.
In the meantime, I am thankful that God gives grace and forgiveness when discontentment weasels its way into my thinking. I am thankful that God understands I am a work in progress and that He is not finished with me yet. And I am thankful that He opens my eyes to continue to learn that His wants and desires for me, in the end, will always be the better ones.