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Contentment in all situations has been one of the hardest Christian principles for me to embrace. It has always been that way.
That was one of the first lessons my pastor tried teaching me after I became a Christian in 1995. Perhaps he saw me running after all sorts of shining objects that he knew would never fully satisfy me.
When I think of contentment, I think of my maternal grandmother. Her name was Betty and she lived well into her nineties in relatively good health. I think she survived that long because she learned the value of being content.
Sure, I could get her riled up and it was loads of fun to do so, especially when recounting the year I spent in Mazomanie, Wis., one summer. It really felt like a year — a light year, in fact.
At age 11, spending the summer with my grandparents in tiny Mazomanie was as though the clock stopped. Minutes turned to hours. I was bored out of my mind.
As long as I knew her, nothing moved my grandmother. Very little could shake her foundation. That wasn’t always the case.
A few years before she died, we were talking on her porch one day. She confided that she had experienced a nervous breakdown as an older teenager for which she was hospitalized.
Her doctor told her that if she didn’t find a way to unwind whatever was wound up insider her, it would eventually kill her. He encouraged her to take up gardening as a way to reduce stress.
She also learned how to cook scrumptious meals and embroider some extraordinarily colorful quilts. She loved needlepoint and knitting, too. But, watching her sit in a rocker for hours at a time fumbling with some needles, yarn and thread was like watching paint dry on a rainy day.
But grandma was content.
Nothing ever rocked her world. She grew up in a small family in one of the most remote parts of Alberta, Canada. Her father was the first postmaster of Cardinal Lake.
She raised three children during that time and added another one after World War II ended. Money was excruciatingly tight. She would often explain that she learned to squeeze money so tightly, the Indian rode the buffalo in a reference to Indian-head nickles.
She and her husband ran a Standard Oil business for years. They lived comfortably, but never had a lot of nice things. I never heard her complain.
She had learned the secret of contentment. If she was worried about anything, we never knew it. But, each year, someone would get a gorgeous quilt.
In Philippians 4, Paul writes about getting to a point where he no longer worried.
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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.”
My grandmother was the same way — well before Alfred E. Newman embraced the cover of Mad magazine with his silly grin and the proclamation “What? Me worry?”
I read an interesting article the other day titled Why the 15-Hour Work Week Never Happened. It raised some interesting points.
“Almost a century ago, in 1930, the great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the 21st century, we would grow so wealthy that we would need to work only 15 hours a week,” the story noted.
“Keynes was right. We did grow wealthy — even wealthier than he predicted. GDP per capita is four times what it was in his time. But he was also wrong,” Charles Chu wrote. “We aren’t working 15-hour weeks. Weekly work hours in the United States have hardly budged from the average of 48 in Keynes’ day.”
The reason we never saw our workweek reduced despite technology making our jobs easier is because we never lowered our desire for more stuff, bigger houses, better cars, more elaborate vacations and fatter bank accounts.
We never learned the secret of being content.
What would your life look like if you worked to eliminate a big chunk of time spent on the hamster wheel of life? Is it really important that you keep up with the neighbors or your spend-happy coworkers?
What if we were to fully trust in God’s provision, recognizing that he promises to give us our “daily bread;” would we be able to truly enjoy a day of rest every week? What about two?
The airwaves are filled with commercials from pharmaceutical companies promoting pills to reduce depression and anxiety.
Yes, that can be a very serious problem. But, for most of us, we bring the anxiety on ourselves because we never learned the secret my grandmother learned as a teenager — to rest in knowing that God will provide everything we need for life (2 Peter 1:3).
In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus teaches:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”
Contentment. Why do most of us have to wait so long to learn that simple secret?
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