In our line of work, we are regularly challenged by the concept of contentment. This is especially true in the realm of material pleasures. Hardly a day goes by where I do not entertain the notion, “You know, this would be so much easier if…” And I don’t think it’s necessarily because I have above-average expectations, or that I am difficult to please. Actually, in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I tend to set the bar pretty low compared to most people. It’s just that the nature of our work highlights contrasting standards of living.
Since we are living amongst a people who are extremely limited in their exposure/access to Western conveniences, and their understanding of different technologies is pretty limited, we often choose to experience life differently than we would naturally have done if left to our own devices. Because we have to consciously choose to embrace this deviation from our natural methods, it creates an opportune environment for potentially discontented musings to arise.
Usually, it’s the little, everyday things that bring about this tension. Things like not being able to let the boys bring their toys outside, or wearing the same three outfits day after day in an endless cycle of drabbery,* or not being able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables as often as we’d like, or trying to convince our kids that it’s OK to eat the bugs in their cereal, because they are “only little bugs and they have good protein.” Then there are the fateful occasions where we attempt to have “family time” outside, only to have clusters of children (and sometimes adults) come and stare at us, as if we are a TV show.
The list could go on indefinitely, but that’s not the point of this blog post. What I’m trying to highlight here is merely the fact that “being content with such things as you have” is something that we think about often, and we try hard to embrace. By and large, I think we do pretty well at it. And therein lies the problem.
I’m finding that I’ve gotten so good at lowering my expectations in regards to my physical life, that I’ve actually let that carry over into my spiritual life at times as well. This was highlighted for me this morning in my devotions.
I’ve started reading through an amazing book, titled, “None But The Hungry Heart.” I’ve read through portions of it before, and it is basically the best devotional ever, no-contest. Its only drawback is that it is written in slightly archaic English, so it can sometimes be difficult to decipher the intended meaning of a passage (but then, once you do, you’re like, “Wow. That’s awesome.”). So, anyway, I’ve decided to work at converting the original prose into contemporary English to help me think through the content and ensure that I am actually processing what I’m reading.**
That exercise led me to the following passage (post-translation): “Every Christian will eventually become what his desires have made him. Each of us is the sum total of our hungers. The great saints of old, the men and women we look to and aspire to be like, have all had thirsting hearts. They could settle for nothing less than “living water.” Their longing after God all but consumed them, and it took them to a depth of relationship with their Father that less ardent believers can scarcely imagine as being possible, much less as something that they themselves might conceivably attain.”
Well, that sure hit the conviction button. “Their longing after God all but consumed them.” That doesn’t really sound like contentment. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of contentment: a constant, insatiable desire for more than you currently have. As I pondered what that type of relationship with the Lord might look like, I began to think that it is probably a fairly different experience than that which I am often accustomed to.
This isn’t to say that I’m normally at enmity with God, or anything. I actually think we tend to get along pretty well, for the most part. Yeah, I give Him a good run for His money in the “long-suffering” & “patient” departments, but He’s always been more than generous with His grace, so it works out alright. And I do my best to walk in the truths that He’s shown me, depending on Him to produce fruit in my life. So, like I said, we’re doing OK.
And there you have it: “We’re doing OK.” Contentment. Ugly, pathetic, contemptible, bold-faced contentment. Though virtuous in many other contexts, I’m realizing that this particular state of mind can be a crippling handicap when it comes to the quality of my relationship with my Savior. If I am down here in my experiential appropriation of what it means to “live as Christ” (I’m holding my hand way down low right now), and Jesus is up here (now my hand is up really high), and I’m wanting to be up here as well (my hand is up high again), then contentment is not my friend.
Our Father offers each of us uninhibited access to a spring of living water in the person of His Son. New, fresh, invigorating water is at our fingertips everyday. To know that, and yet still choose to drink from the nearby stagnant pool of contentment, would truly be a waste of a golden opportunity.
So, I’d like to challenge you as you read this, as I am being challenged as I write it: If you are being tempted to complain, embrace contentment, but if you are being nudged by an opportunity to know God more deeply, then punch contentment in the nose and run the other way.
* Yeah, I just made that word up.
** That, and I think it will be a cool resource later on for our family.