The onslaught is building, slowly but surely. You’re already seeing and hearing ads for the holiday shopping season, reminding you that even though Thanksgiving is more than two weeks away, it’s time to think about Christmas shopping. The consumer machine is revving up.
That consumer machine runs on one fuel: discontent. We cannot be satisfied with the stuff we already have, we need new, better, stuff. Advertising’s goal is to make us discontent with what we’ve got, so we will run out and get something else. The season of giving, for some of us, becomes more of a season of getting.
I love the holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Years. I love baking, feeding people, feasting, hosting. The rest of the year, I don’t care much about decorating. But this time of year, I find it fun to pull out the tree and a few simple decorations and lights to brighten up this season when it’s dark and cold outside. And frankly, I’m tempted by Christmas tableware more than I ought to be. But I’m quite sure I don’t want to get sucked up by that spending/buying machine this year. I want to cultivate contentment.
No easy task, right? At a time of year when we’re being told to spend, to buy, to want things we don’t have, contentment seems to fall to the bottom of the list. No other time of year causes us so much confusion about the distinction between needs and wants.
With that in mind, I wanted to share an excerpt from my book, 99 Bible Words You Should Know, from the entry on contentment.
The apostle Paul, though he suffered much, wrote profound and compelling words about the important theme of contentment. For example, Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, warning him about those who would use preaching the gospel for their own personal gain, people “who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain” (1 Tim. 6:5). He then contrasts this false teaching with the truth:
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment (autarkeia), for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (arkeo). But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim. 6:6–9 esv)
The noun autarkeia appears only twice in the text, here and in 2 Corinthians 9:8, where it is translated “sufficiency.” The verb form arkeo is found only eight times. Still, it is a major New Testament theme, the subject of both parables and true heroic stories.
Paul contrasts contentment with chasing after riches, or loving money, echoing the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6, when he said that no one can serve two masters, but must choose between God and money.
A spiritual discipline that will help us cultivate contentment is the practice of detachment. Adele Calhoun writes: “As followers of Jesus we are called to live as Jesus did. . . . We are to relinquish worldly values and detach from anything that stands in the way of desiring and knowing God.” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (The Transforming Center Set))
Choosing to serve God, and allowing him to guide and help us, brings contentment. Letting go of our grip on earthly goods and ambitions allows us to live in the freedom of contentment.
Lisa Graham McMinn, in her book The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life ,
writes, “Being content does not mean we are satisfied. In fact, to be content is to know we will always be groaning this side of eternity. Yet when we believe that fullness will come, that there is more than this life, we live with contentment.”
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Leave a comment below and tell us: how do you cultivate contentment during the busy holiday season? What gets in the way of being content?