Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Contentment defined. Contentment unanswered.

Ever since my pastor preached a sermon on contentment about two weeks ago, it's something that's been on my mind and heart pretty much daily. I guess the fact that I have places of my own discontentment are the things that stick out to me as I think about this. I can think of handfuls of things I wish I had. Things I wish were different. Even just desires of my heart that are legitimate things to long for. I want my own house. I want my husband to have a job he loves. I want a baby. I want a closet full of shoes. I've asked myself questions the past two weeks like, is it possible to actually be content? What does true contentment look like? Can I find this contentment and what would it look like for me? And the most probing question of all: Is it possible to hope for more in your life and relationships and still have contentment at the same time?

These questions have been rolling around in my mind. And just today I've done a little word-work on 'content' in the Scriptures and even good ol' Websters dictionary. I must admit, I am simply finding more frustration. And even in that, I am quite discontent.

I know that contentment must be possible. Paul achieves this and tells us about it in the book of Philippians. He says in 4:11-13, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I find myself quite agitated at Paul in this verse. He has found some secret to contentment that I don't know about it and yet the only "clue" he gives in finding contentment is something about doing things through Christ's strengthening. Yes, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, I know this. But, find contentment? Will He give me the strength to find it? Give me the strength to endure what I don't happen to have? Or strengthen me to live through current wants or needs? I keep coming up with more questions and no answers!

I looked up the word content in the dictionary as well and was most perplexed by the definition I found. To limit oneself in requirements, desires or actions. To limit oneself..... What would that look like? And how can I put that into practice? When I went back to the original Greek text of the word content Paul uses, I find a similar definition. The original word is Autarkes (ow-tar-kase). Meaning - sufficient for oneself, strong enough or processing enough to need no aid or support, independent of external circumstances. Content with one's lot, with one's means, though the slenderest. I noticed this was also the only time this particular meaning of content was used in the new testament. Even more perplexing.

I was writing to a friend this morning about this very thing. These were some of my thoughts:

I really struggle with discontentment and wanting to have everything I see or desire. I remember it wasn't long ago when I said, "If only I were married, then I would be content forever. I'd never want anything else." How UNTRUE that statement was. As long as I'm alive, I'm sure there will be something else I desire. There always seems to be something else that can make life better or more fulfilled. Do you relate to this? I just feel hopeless. As if I'll always be discontent with what God has blessed me with - which is a lot. I know He loves me and is patient as I continue to learn what contentment is, but I can't help feeling like a wretched daughter of the King. He's given me so much, and I still want so much more - and some of those things are really futile too. But, I wonder how it is possible to be content with what I have, where I am and who I am, and still have hope for more. Is this possible? Aren't we supposed to hope?.......Hopeless feels like my word today. Hopeless in lack of time to do everything I need to. Hopeless in finding contentment. Hopeless in defeating my struggles. I don't feel all that melancholy or sad today really. Just very aware of my depravity and neediness - which I suppose isn't all that bad.

I've been told that our dignity is found amongst our depravity. And I wonder where it lies in this mess of my discontentment. Where does it lie in my searching and questioning God about these things? I feel I have much more to ponder and study and look at. And I'm just beginning. If any of you have the content thing down like Paul did, please share. I would love to close this blog with my latest revelation on how to attain contentment or some epiphany on what being content looks like for me. But, I'm afraid I must leave this hanging. Unresolved, unexplained, unanswered. Just more to think about, and more to discover. Sitting in my mess of discontentment, my pile of questions, and a longing heart to know my Savior just a little more than I did yesterday. And I'm sure I'm sitting here in this mess, in the presence of Great Company.

3 comments:

"B" said...

Love the undoneness of this post!

Lib said...

Jenn...
I was finding myself in complete and utter boredom during that sermon a few weeks ago, however your post was anything but. I feel you addressed so many of the questions that are REALLY going on in our head when we ponder what real contentment looks like. It is a topic that can not be summed up with catchy, cliche phrases. I believe contentment can be found but such a struggle as yours is usually necessary to truly find it. I can relate in many of your struggles and love that you are digging in, being real, and really wrestling with God on this one. I believe you will find the answers you're looking for.

Melanie said...

Your comment about Christmas stress on my blog is the reason I blog- to hopefully encourage other women in a way that only God can.
Your writing is excellent, Jenn. Straight from the depth of your heart. Keep writing!

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