A recent newspaper article on the phenomena of school reunions was titled ‘Didn’t I do well and aren’t you fat’. The article reported a survey of 1600 people who had attended school reunions and it arrived at the following conclusion:
Whether or not we admit it overtly, going to a reunion is the occasion for a sort of personal stocktaking: the chance to ask where
you are in life, and to do so by weighing yourself up against your classmates. So it will come as little surprise to discover that many of us try to put a thumb on the scales.
Reader, we lie. And the biggest lie –as if we could fool ourselves – is the all-encompassing one. Nine people out of every ten pretend to be happier than they actually are. In the survey people admitted to lying about the money they earnt, their job titles, their sex lives. One person commented:
There is something competitive about it. You find yourself running through the checklist of successes you should have had.
I’ve never been to a school reunion but I’ve spent a fair bit of time checking profiles out school friends on facebook and friends reunited. I guess I’m just stating the obvious when I say we find it so easy to derive our contentment from comparing ourselves against others in a competition to prove ourselves.
Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety argues that a desire, a need, for recognition is built into our very psyche. Status anxiety is the worry that hard as we might have tried that we have been unable to convince the world of our value. Whilst we may wish that our sense of worth were impermeable in fact our ‘ego’s’ are like leaking balloons, forever requiring the helium of external love to remain inflated and vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect. Without regular boosts to our egos we become anxious, we lose confidence and fall into feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. The need to succeed is perhaps second in importance to the need to be seen to succeed.
And so we’re left with this question:
Is it possible to find a contentment independent of our circumstances and if so what is the secret of contentment?
Who doesn’t desire to have a joy and a peace that is not based on our performance? Who wouldn’t wish to be free from the constant need to prove oneself and be free from the tyranny of always needing soemthing to change before we could be happy. Is it possible to be reconciled to my circumstances and situation? How can I stop my personal happiness from being dependent on the ebb and flow of ever-changing circumstances?
The promise of the gospel is that for every Christian divine contentment is possible, is a great blessing but must be learned.
1. It’s possible because the Paul testifies to having discovered it:
In Philippians 4v11 he writes, ‘I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation’
2. It’s desirable because it brings great gain:
Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6v6, ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’. Just think what a great liberation it is to find a contentment independent of circumstance. It brings peace to a troubled heart. It brings joy to the Christian life. It is a witness to the world. In fact if we are to grow at all as Christians nothing could be of greater importance than finding contentment.
3. And yet it must be learned. Because it does not come naturally.
To guide us through our journey toward contentment we will be helped by a man called Thomas Watson and in particular his little book The Art of Divine Contentment. The book is essentially a commentary on Paul’s lesson in contentment from Philippians. At the outset Watson reminds us that content does not come naturally and that ‘good things are hard to come by‘. After all if the Apostle Paul himself had to learn contentment we too will struggle to find it. Watson writes ‘It cost him many a prayer and tear, it was taught him by the Spirit.’
4. Contentment is finally a gift of God. It is divinely given.
And as a result what we will reflect on over the coming days is not a self-help manual. As Watson says, ‘Let us beg the Spirit of God to teach us; we must be “divinely taught”.
Where do we go from here? In the next posts we will be learning this vital lesson together by asking:
- What is divine contentment?
- How do I learn contentment?
- What does it look like? How can I tell if I’m actually learning it ?
- What do I do when I’m feeling discontent?
Leave a comment
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
- June 2013
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011
- February 2011
- January 2011
- December 2010
- November 2010