Why do many of us find it so difficult to find contentment? Why are so many of us so restless in our current situations? Why do we expend so much of our energy and time worrying about what the other guy has, unsatisfied with what we have been given and placing a top priority on “bettering” our circumstances? What keeps so many of us from living a contented life? The answer, I believe, can be found in our covetous nature.
A less-than-fulfilling existence is born of the false belief that the importance of our lives is staked out by the abundance of our possessions. When we succumb to our covetous nature, what we are really doing is chasing after some sort of inner security we’re hoping to achieve by gathering up more and more stuff. It really is ironic if you think about it; our covetous nature sets us up to be snared by the belief that the accumulation of material things will quench a fundamental need for security, when in reality, we only find ourselves running after the wind, still thirsting for more. We cling to dissipating comforts and pleasures while pushing aside the more lasting and profound fulfillment of our souls that can only come from service to God.
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
A big part of the problem is that since so much of our lives revolves around getting things done and chasing down achievements, we feel we should also be able to just reach out and grasp contentment and add it to our list of growing accomplishments. But it doesn’t work that way. Contentment isn’t just there for the taking, something gotten by doing, it’s something that’s done to us, from the inside. Contentment isn’t about doing, it’s about being.
There is a wrestling at our core between contentment and covetousness. Learning to be content is about discerning between two relationships: our external relationship to ephemeral, uncertain circumstances, and an internal relationship to our enduring and immutable Creator. It’s about an internal trusting of God that is anchored to a sense of gratitude but untethered to the fleeting things of the world. So we need to cultivate a state of being that is not defined by dwelling on what we lack and racing to accumulate more, but instead is born of an internal relationship with Jesus Christ, separate from our external circumstances, and in thankfulness of the things we do have.
Contentment isn’t something that’s saved for the end, something to learn once we sense our journey is coming to an end. No matter how much money we make, one of the most life-altering changes any of us can instantly inject into our lives is to be content with what we have and to live within our means. We can learn to do this by spending less than we make, managing the leftover money and being generous with our money and our time. To be generous is to experience real joy; the two are so intertwined that it just makes sense that our contentedness in life is directly related to how much of a giving heart we cultivate and nourish.