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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Contentment

It's been 2 weeks since we committed to the Compact, and the topic of contentment has really been on my mind. It's no wonder that so many of us struggle with it. As a nation, there is discontentment around every turn. We are constantly looking for a bigger house, a better car, a more exciting job...we are told every day by advertisers that we NEED all of those things...or we will be LESS than everyone else. Less successful. Less pretty. Less desirable. Have you ever paid close attention to those feelings that are created when you are looking at advertising or at something in a store? They are not happy thoughts. Thoughts of wanting, needing...the feeling that you are somehow deprived of the true joy in life if you don't act now. When I go into a store, I am now acutely aware of those feelings...because I cannot act upon them. I look at an item, and then I stop and examine the thoughts running through my head. Pretty crazy stuff.

I've been trying to eliminate all sources of advertising in our lives over the last year or so...and it's been an eye-opening experiment. I knew that the obvious offender was the TV. But the others are not so easily detected. What about advertisements in magazines? What about the magazines themselves? Looking through magazines like Country Home, Real Simple, and others...I see so many things that I WANT. Oh the goodies! What about magazines like Health or Self? Looking at the women in those magazines will only create discontentment with your body. Now take a look in your mailbox...Crate and Barrel...J.Crew. More WANTS. Look in your email inbox. You will see passionate pleas for your to open their message. Sales! Buy now...before it's too late! The Sunday newspaper sales ads...full of STUFF to buy. Billboards that scream at you as you drive. And the most stealthy method of all...your friends. When you go to their house and see that they have something that is sooooo cool, you want it too. Even if you don't need it. I experienced this just yesterday. I was at a girlfriend's house. She has a rug that I was looking at buying a couple months ago, but decided against it. And even though I have a perfectly great rug now... for a moment, I thought that I needed that same rug because she had it.

As silly as it sounds, and as "strong" as you think you might be...it's so easy to get sucked in by all of these things. You may not act on your "wanting" impulses right away, but it's those feelings that just pile on top of one another, creating discontentment and desire, and pretty soon you're buying a McMansion and filling it with goodies from Pottery Barn.

The mall is another temple of wants that I try to avoid at all costs. The term "window shopping" is really quite silly. They should just call it "driving myself crazy by making myself want things I can't afford". And now they don't just make malls, they make "Lifestyle Centers". Made specially for you to MAINTAIN your lifestyle. They make it hard to leave...with the food, coffee, playgrounds, lakes, trails, movies, colleges (yes, in a mall), you do just want to LIVE there.

For me, contentment is clearly a spiritual issue. In the past, whenever I have gone on a spending binge, it has been during a spiritual dry spell. I also tend to spend a lot more when Matt on a trip and I am lonely. I spend to fill a void in my life...to feel "happy". That void should be filled with my relationship with Christ, not with stuff. But for some reason, buying stuff (even just a fancy coffee) changes my reality at that moment, but it's a temporary fix.

I like what Joyce Meyers has to say about this topic:
Contentment is a decision to be happy with what you already have. One dictionary defines the word content as "rest or quietness of the mind in the present condition; satisfaction which holds the mind in peace, restraining complaining, opposition, or further desire, and often implying a moderate degree of happiness."

We usually learn to be content by living discontented lives for a long time and then finally saying: "Lord, I don't want to live this way any longer. Getting this thing or having that thing is not worth it.

"I don't want to be miserable anymore. Just give me what You want me to have because unless You want me to have it, I don't want it.

"From now on I'm not going to compare myself with anyone else. I'm not going to be jealous or envious of anyone. I don't want what anyone else has. Lord, I want only what You want me to have."

The 2 things that really stick out to me:
  • She says that contentment is a DECISION. It does not come naturally. Don't beat yourself up if it's a struggle for you...but you can overcome it.
  • "Restraining complaining, opposition, or further desire". Further desire. Sometimes my whole mind is one big desire. I desire to be this, I desire to have this, I desire to be in another place, I desire a bigger or smaller this or that. To be content is to STOP all of those feeling that roam around your brain taking away energy. Energy that could be spent on the NOW. Enjoying your life for what it truly is. It's energy that could be spent getting to know Jesus better.
Here are some verses that speak about contentment. I am going to meditate on these verses and memorize them throughout this year as we take part in the Compact.
Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want, for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.

I know how to be abased and live humbly in straitened circumstances, and I know also how to enjoy plenty and live in abundance. I have learned in any and all circumstances the secret of facing every situation, whether well-fed or going hungry, having a sufficiency and enough to spare or going without and being in want.

I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency.

Philippians 4:11-13

Don't be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, "I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you," we can boldly quote,

God is there, ready to help;
I'm fearless no matter what.
Who or what can get to me?
Heb. 13:5, The Message

Better is little with the reverent, worshipful fear of the Lord than great and rich treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
Proverbs 15-16-17

Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation.

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds' feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Wow. Such a complex topic...I feel as if I have hardly touched the surface. But everyday that I resist the urge to buy stuff, I get a little more content with what I already have. Baby steps. Thank you Jesus for being patient with me!

18 Comments:

Blogger FillingMyQuiver said...

Beautiful Sara and so true. So much to ponder and meditate on. This is definitely an area where DH and I struggle spiritually and have made it a real point to focus on over the last few years. It is so empowering and freeing when we realize that He will provide for all our NEEDS if we put our faith in Him. That IS something to be content with.

10/22/2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Don't forget 1 Timothy 6:6-8 (one of our "big" verses): "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." Thank you for your thoughtful post; it speaks right to where I am right now!

10/22/2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I think it's important to note that Paul does say be content "in plenty and in want". So, if you have plenty, be content, and if you are lacking, be content.

What to buy, what not to buy, looking at advertisements, not looking at advertisements...in some ways, it's all chatter. All that "stuff" will always be there, the struggle with contentment will always be there, regardless of the time. (I mean, Paul talked about it back then, so evidently it was a struggle back then, too!) The focus is that we fill it ALL up with Christ. Continually turning to Him. IT's so easy to fall in the guilt trap of feeling bad because you "want". But Jesus doesn't want that for us. That's what he died for. What He does want is a filling up of Him. And even if you live in a McMansion with Pottery Barn furniture, He wants that. :)

10/22/2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/22/2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger angela said...

Ahhh...such a timely post for my life. This is an area that the devil is attacking me big time! We are in such a time of transition and waiting and I'm attempting to simplify our lives and in the middle of all the change that is going on, I find myself longing for something else. But the Lord is faithful and is constantly reminding me that this is the time I was raised for, this where the He has put me and I must wait on Him.
Thank you for sharing this.

10/23/2006 7:03 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Funny that the word "contentment" has the word "content" in it...

consumerism would have us think that the content we need is stuff, but, as you imply, the content we really need is Christ's spirit within...

I think of Isaiah 55, "Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?...come to me...so that you may live."

10/23/2006 7:11 AM  
Blogger Heth said...

Good stuff Sare.....

10/23/2006 8:39 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Sara, I'd like to interview you for an article I'm doing for a major Christian mag... if you'd like to know more, please contact me through the contact button on my regular website llbarkat.com.

Thanks! :)

10/23/2006 9:10 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I really needed to read every word you wrote. I'm really looking forward to Christmas this year, and in my family that means lots of presents for everyone. I'm not looking forward to Christmas because of the stuff I'll get, but because of the time with family, the atmosphere, the fun Jude will have, church on Christmas Eve, etc. I've found myself looking through catalogues and in stores for things I want ... because there's not a whole lot I *need* ... in order to give my relatives a Christmas list. Then I'll start thinking about stuff I want to get *right now*.

It is very difficult for me sometimes to not get caught up in the mindset of "that's cool! I like it! I NEED it!" I've found I need to be content in every area of my life, not just with the stuff I have, but with where we live and Adam's job, too. When I'm not content, I focus on those things rather than on Jesus and everything He has blessed me with.

A verse I like is Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." When we delight ourselves in Him, our desires will be from Him, and not from ourselves.

10/23/2006 9:12 AM  
Blogger Charity Singleton said...

Your point about wanting what our friends have is well taken. How can we rejoice with what our friends have without wanting one ourselves? How can we help each other be content with what we have? I've also been guilty of talking someone into a purchase because it's fun or exciting, when maybe they really needed to say "no."

Contentment may actually be more of a community issue that we realize.

10/23/2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Just saw this ...

The Suburban Christian: Suburbia as Mission Field: BreakPoint on The Suburban Christian

and thought it adds a wonderful perspective to the discussion.

10/24/2006 4:41 AM  
Blogger Faith said...

Dear Sara,
This is on somewhat of a different note: I want to do a series of posts on alternative Christmas celebrations and I was wondering if you have any thoughts on an anti-consumerism Christmas! Especially as it relates to buying & recieving Christmas gifts.
Feel free to send me an email (it's on my profile) or if you write (or have already written) a post about it you could just let me know in a comment on my blog!

10/24/2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

L.L. Barkat...thanks for the link. I have been thinking on this topic for some time now and I'm definitely interested in that book.

10/24/2006 3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I go further into my Compacting, eliminating unnecessary things and focusing on interests, ideas and skills that truly enhance my life, I find myself calmer and more-at-home with myself. It has been amazing. I prefer staying home, doing something worthwhile, than shopping at the thrift store to pass the time. Thank you for posting this. :)

10/24/2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Laura O said...

hey sis, you are so well spoken...keep up the good work hon!

10/24/2006 5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post - and just what michael & i have been discussing lately. always a struggle in this culture of ours, but so necessary. all these 'wants', and even getting them, robs us of joy. good verses to contemplate!

10/25/2006 10:17 AM  
Blogger Gavrielah said...

Wow, Sara. There is no way you could have known how much this entry would mean to me. It has truly touched my soul and for that I am very grateful to you.

10/26/2006 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a new mom I joined my church and began studying the New Testement. I was so relieved to read the teachings about not worrying about money and things, that God would take care of us. Definately helped as we were a one income family and I was (and still am) a SAHM.

I was content even though we didn't have a new car, big new house or new furniture. I was doing what I was meant to do - be home and raise my dks. Having faith in the Lord stopped me from freaking out about paying certain bills because something always came through to make it work out. We were very blessed to receive a lot of things (hand me down clothing comes to mind) and I was able to give back to my church family because I was home.

I'm still content, 15 yrs later. There is very little that I want. By being frugal and good stewards of our money we have been able to provide our dks with experiences rather than things. Family vacations, weeks at Christian camp, and sports are some of them.

It is fun to get what I need for the least amount of money. And all we really need is our family around us to love us and our faith to sustain us.

10/27/2006 2:38 PM  

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