Defining contentment can be like trying to sneak up on a squirrel. We can get close, but it darts away the second we’re about to pounce. Opening a dictionary can be a good start, but defining a concept goes beyond Webster. We can’t look to our own lives for a definition or we will get confused. Like anything with faith, looking inward obstructs our understanding, not enhances it. (I was content yesterday with my husband, children, house, and job, but today with the same husband, children, house, and job, I’m discontent).
Truth comes to us externally, from Christ’s Word and story.
Paul’s words, “I have learned to be content,” lead us to the beginning of our definition. Contentment is not something we attain for ourselves. It’s something we learn. Learning implies a tug-of-war process, not a linear progression from inability to perfection. It’s two steps forward one step back. It’s peeling back layers of an onion. It’s a gradual, multi-layered experience during which we’ll have times of clarity and success, and other times of confusion and failure. Thus, one day I’m content, the next day I’m not. It’s all part of the learning process.
The times of greatest learning are not those times when we feel content, but rather those moments when discontentment rages. In those unsatisfied moments, we have opportunity to focus on the true heavenly realities that are ours, and the peace God gives us through those promises.
Which leads us to another part of our contentment definition. Contentment is not based on worldly objects or situations. Paul’s admission that he’s learned the secret of contentment comes from inside a prison cell. Many of David’s Psalms are written from his time fleeing in the desert. Jeremiah tells displaced Israel to plant gardens and thrive in exile. Paul instructs us to give thanks in all circumstances.
Second Corinthians chapters 4-5 offer a beautiful picture of the realities that exist beyond our circumstances.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
And we’re off on our month-long quest to define contentment. Here’s a sneak peek at what’s to come: how groaning is part of contentment, gratitude sows seeds of contentment, Paul’s story of contentment, how spiritual disciplines foster contentment, and how dreams interact with contentment.