The Secret of Contentment
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
- Philippians 4:10-11
Paul knows how to be content. Whatever the circumstances. Why do we find this so difficult?
The search for contentment has occupied a lot of mental energy throughout human history. Confucian philosophy looked for contentment in rightly-ordered relationships and a respect-filled society. Indigenous American philosophy pointed to the importance of a healthy posture toward nature. Ancient Greek philosophy trumpeted Stoic virtue or Epicurean pleasure-seeking as the path toward contentment. Time and time again these searches came up just a little bit empty.
The quest for contentment continues today: mindfulness, life-hacking, dream jobs, helicopter parenting, cray-cray vacay, HGTV, Powerball, volunteering … endless options stretch out before us. Which look best to you?
Contentment always seems to be just around the corner and just out of reach. A little more or a little longer or a little more effort or patience or money and it will be ours. But, to paraphrase a plucky (now Disney) princess: “The more you tighten your grip, the more contentment will slip through your fingers.”
What do we do with someone who claims to know the secret to being content whatever the circumstances? What habits of cynicism do we need to put on hold in order to hear what God wants us to hear about contentment?