Paul encourages Timothy to pursue contentment in life as an expression of his discipleship. (1 Timothy 6:6) In finding contentment the desire to have more, and do more, and be more is put aside. As much as Paul’s focus may be on self-control around material wealth and simply accepting our basic human needs of food and culture there is also a deep spiritual and psychological edge to Paul’s injunction.
Shakespeare portrays Richard III as man filled with discontent as the play opens with the famous words, “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious”. The discontent of the character fed by bitterness leads to war and conflict. Yet the discontent of Richard has become the discontent for all of us as we are taught in our modern culture to be discontent with what we have.
In our modern culture contentment is a mood and state of mind that is almost impossible to achieve. Being satisfied with what you have, with material possessions, means not giving in to a culture that teaches us that we are incomplete unless we have more and own more and do more.
Our modern culture is a culture that is built on coveting – consumerism. For those of us bought up as natives in a culture of plenty it is difficult to understand that our attempts at contentment are constantly being eroded by a culture that is obsessed with growth.
The constancy of the demand for more infiltrates our lives in so many ways. For example, I recently renegotiated my download size because we need more capacity to cope with the amount of TV and movie access. Through this purchase I can create a personal sense of contentment in the enjoyment of my life but when more than half the world’s population do not have access to the internet at all, let alone the wealth that would allow them to have the technology, I am left looking within myself for what it means to be content.
Our society teaches us we cannot be content unless we have new clothes, new shoes, eat at the best restaurants, have a better car, a bigger house, a new phone, some beautiful china, more technology, an overseas holiday, and the list goes on and on. As natives in this culture we have come to take so many of these things for granted – we are consumers par excellence.
How then might we begin to pursue contentment arising out of our faith and relationship with God in Jesus? Maybe beginning by finding a greater depth of gratitude to God in our lives: taking the time to be thankful each morning, and through moments in the day, and as the evening comes. Maybe by trying not to be seduced into the next purchase or being jealous of other people’s possessions and opportunities. Maybe by appreciating the small things a bit more: a meal on the table; time for rest; entering deeply into our relationships with people by having fun with people and spending time with family. Maybe by taking the time out to be at ‘peace’ with yourself, God and others, to meditate and pray. Maybe learning to savour each present moment no matter what it brings. Maybe it can be helpful it we can remember that “this is my lot in life (and maybe that this life has given me a lot!) And, to make the most of it and be content that God walks with me.”
Whatever happens our faith is that God is with us. Recognising the deep and generous gifts we have received and accepting the spiritual gift of faith let us pursue contentment with what we have so that we might practice generosity and love in the name of Jesus who has given us peace with God.