Life has many confusing contradictions. We want to give our children more than the little that we had. We scrimp and save to send them to better schools, then wonder why they do not appreciate our ‘sacrifices’. It is what we owe them, they say. We let them stay at home while in their first job, so they can save money toward their own home, then wonder when they ask for even more money because they feel they need a better wardrobe to impress their bosses. What has happened to gratitude? Why does it seem that people are less satisfied with what they have, are less contented today then when I was young?
Growing up on a small farm in rural and mountainous Vermont, USA, we lived a simple life. We never had much, but we never lacked for what we really needed. When I graduated from high school, my dad, with tears in his eyes, took me aside to explain that he could only give me $300.00 for my college education, it was the only money he could spare. So I worked my way through a 2-year college that cost me about $2,200/year. How did I do it? I begged for a personal loan from my aunt, I worked a minimum of 20 hours a week in the college library, I babysat for faculty members, I ran errands, I worked full time during summer break.
Did I begrudge giving up my spare time and weekend pleasures for work? No, because I knew even then that it was up to me, and no one else, to make the best out of my life that I could. This was a gift that my parents had given me — the desire to be the best I could be whatever the circumstances were. I should not blame others for my difficulties and inadequacies, nor should I get angry or bitter when things did not happen the way I thought they should. And, I should try to match my desires with my needs. Then, my parents said, I would find contentment.
I learned how to be content. The definition of contentment that I constructed is this: “Contentment is making grateful, faithful, fruitful and joyful use of what you have, little or much.” In this statement I can clearly see the footprints of my parents as they journeyed through their lives, showing me the way.
When I am confronted with one of life’s many confusing contradictions, I pause for a moment and try to look at the situation in terms of “contentment”. I ask myself: What is there in this situation that I can be grateful for? In working through this contradiction, how can I live out my faith in God’s goodness? How can I bear good fruit despite the confusion around me? Will my decisions in this situation give me a joyful heart? Where is God’s loving hand in this situation?
Contentment is a gift wrapped in beautiful cloth that is woven with multi-colored strands of gratefulness for whatever and however much or little you have, faithfulness to God and self, the fruitfulness of creative, honest work, and the joy of sharing with others and knowing that you did your best. I know now that a contented life is an abundant life wherein we have everything we need, and if we persevere in doing good excellently and sharing whatever we have with those in need, that even what we desire will eventually come our way.