3 Keys To Living In Contentment
My Grandpa Colby (Brad speaking) was a young teen when he was summoned to a neighbor’s farm to help milk a less-than-cooperative cow. Apparently the farmer was off on a drinking binge and had abandoned the cow for days. She was miserably full of milk and unwilling to let anyone touch her.
As Colby arrived at the barn and moved toward the unhappy cow, he must have sensed her tension. He talked to her as he approached and grabbed the milking stool. But when he knelt down to milk the cow, she lurched forward and kicked him in the leg, opening a deep gash. His torn flesh bled severely. There were no modern ambulances or helicopters to come to his rescue, so getting him to medical attention took precious time—lost time that allowed his young muscles to die from lack of blood. In the end, in order to save his life, his leg had to be amputated.
Colby had ventured down the road toward a neighbor’s farm to perform an act of kindness, not realizing his life would change forever. As I grew up and more fully understood my Grandpa Colby, what struck me was that he wasn’t in the least consumed by his past. I never heard him tell his story firsthand; I had to piece it together from family recollections. He never thought it necessary to tell me how he felt about losing his leg. The grandpa I grew to know could have been bitter about the drunken farmer or the call to take responsibility for someone else’s animal. Yet he never complained about his bad fortune or the fact that the situation left him without a leg. Instead he stayed focused on the future and the abundance of good things he could do—like catch fish with his grandkids and beat me at checkers!
Having the use of two healthy legs is surely a “possession” many of us believe is necessary to enjoy a full, happy, and large life. This was especially true in the community where Grandpa Colby lived, where being able bodied was essential to earning a livelihood. But Grandpa Colby simply found a way, as many people do, of living well without the benefit of the full body he was given at birth. He finished school and became a successful banker and family man. He was at peace. He was content, regardless of circumstance.
Most of us have a vision of what we think is absolutely necessary for us to be happy. There is a measure of truth in those beliefs. But the greater truth is that we can learn to live happily even if we are denied things we consider essential.
Just as our homes have expanded over time, the list of material things we deem important continues to grow longer and longer. British author and trend forecaster James Wallman tells about a formal study by UCLA anthropologists to dig into the stuff that fills American homes. The smallest home in the study measured just under a thousand square feet, yet in the home’s two bedrooms and the living room alone, researchers found 2,260 items. They counted only items out in the open, nothing hidden in drawers or cupboards.
Among all the homes in their study they found on average:
- 39 pairs of shoes
- 90 DVDs or videos
- 139 toys
- 212 CDs
- 438 books and magazines
Wallman calls this “stuffocation,” which he defines as “suffocating under too much stuff.”
Without a conscious change of direction, this is where we live. But how can we move past our insatiable cravings to a genuine contentment? Let’s look at some attitudes and practices that can help us.
1. “I am confident in God’s love for me.” Scripture celebrates that God lovingly provides what we need and tells us that things will never satisfy us. The Bible resounds with encouragement for us to work hard to acquire what we need and to avoid the trap of believing that money or things will make us happy or content.
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless,” says Ecclesiastes 5:10.
The apostle Paul in Philippians 4 puts forth one of the Bible’s more extended teachings on worry and peace. First he says that we should trade worry in for prayer: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (verses 6-7).
Paul’s teaching comes from his own experience riding a roller coaster of joy and suffering, plenty and want. As a result of what he learned, he was able to say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Paul describes exactly what Grandpa Colby discovered. Peace doesn’t come from outward circumstances but from an inward surrender to Christ.
2. “Tithing—giving 10 percent of my income—is an important part of how I manage my money.” When it comes to being generous with money, if giving 10 percent feels out of reach, start with one percent more than you give right now. Aim to increase by one percent every three to six months until you reach your goal. As you connect giving to your everyday life, you will soon see that you really do have enough. Sharing not just money but time and energy will feel not just more doable but more joyful. Giving from a surplus mindset is not linked to how much money you have; rather, it is choosing to lead with generosity in all its forms.
3. “I am comfortable with what I have and what I give away.” Many people find they stop worrying about having enough when they start planning. The writer of Proverbs puts it well: “Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; hurry and scurry puts you further behind” (Proverbs 21:5, The Message).
People often avoid budgeting because it reveals how little money they have to do all the things they want to do and how little they have to buy the things they want. Budgeting indeed provides a reality check. But when we plan from a perspective of faith—that is, when we realize our money comes as a trust that we are called to manage for God—that changes everything. Budgeting isn’t about getting what we want. It’s about using our money for God and for others.
Sometimes contentment and peace come by managing our expectations. Years ago a woman was interviewed on television. She had Down syndrome, and had recently married a man who also lived with Down syndrome. Since marriage among Down syndrome is rare, their lives became a curiosity.
The interviewer wanted to know how they managed. Were they happy? How did they pay their bills? Since they couldn’t drive, how did they get to work? They lacked the intellectual capacity to dive into conversations about politics, religion, and global warming. And the “great American dream” of home ownership seemed far beyond their reach. How could they possibly be satisfied?
The woman paused for a moment after the barrage of inquiries about her happiness. She looked the interviewer in the eyes and said slowly and confidently, “I am happy because I always get what I want.”
Dumbfounded, the interviewer went back over the litany of things the woman and her spouse would never have. With incredible poise, this young woman repeated her point: “I always get what I want. But I know what to want.”
The young woman explained that her happiness was rooted in realistic expectations for her life. Because she had settled in to her place on the planet rather well, she was able to live in contentment.
Can you say that you know what to want? Out of her wisdom and joy, this woman shared the secret to living at peace.