Contentment: Reflections on one of our Missing Virtues
“The Problem with Contentment is that we always want more of it.”
There is much that could be said about our chronic compulsive need for contentment. Indeed, our narcissism and incessant hunger for more than we have is the result of an insatiable appetite of covetousness. As Francis de Sales warns, “as long as your spirit looks elsewhere than where you are, it will never apply itself rightly to profiting from where you are.” Regardless of the specific object that captivates our eyes- wealth, security, fame, recognition, professional success, ministry accolades, fashion, net worth, knowledge, power – so long as we are looking at it (or more of it), the amount currently served on our platter is never enough to satisfy.
And although we may be reminded by the occasional news reporter, more frequently by your local preacher, and most of all by your mother, of rough statistics that 60% of the world lives on less than $2 a day, the cure to this unquenchable thirst that leaves us living ragged and parched spiritual lives is not in remembering how comparatively wealthy we are. Whenever relativity enters the picture, all we are doing is trying to color the data in a way that makes us look rich enough to where complaining seems inappropriate. It does not cure the root of the problem. It merely works to make the symptoms appear normal.
Contentment is not about looking at ourselves as rich in comparison to others. Contentment is about learning to love and rest in exactly the place we are now. It’s not about looking around for consolation. It’s about seeing where you are now, and embracing peace and rest with where you are by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I recently spent time pondering the definition of contentment offered by author and professor Gary Thomas. Thomas defines contentment as “soul rest.” “It is satisfaction, peace, assurance, and a sense of well-being…[as opposed to] striving, aching, restlessness ,and worry.” Although at first I thought such a definition sounded a little too trendy, I’ve come to think that such a definition is about as functional and helpful a perspective that I can imagine.
Yet notice that this “soul rest” is not complacency, slothfulness, carelessness, nor obliviousness to the world around us. When I think about my own experience, the tension between defining “contentment” as different than “complacency” becomes rather vivid.
After praying for a friend and classmate this past week as he finds himself continuing his job search, I was reminded of the months that I spent suspended in that uncertain state of unemployment, and striving to find a job. The moment that jolted into my head was of one very specific morning in July of 2009, when, after taking a deep breath, I pushed open the door to the Orange County Xerox office. 9:05 AM. My interview for a district sales manager was in 25 min. After confidently greeting the receptionist and being thanked for coming and asked to take a seat, I pulled out my Bible from my shoulder bag to find some encouragement before I was thrust “on stage.” As I opened my mahogany Bible and pulled the maroon ribbon to continue where my ribbon had left off, I found myself reading Deuteronomy 8:11-14:
“Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Suddenly, the tension in the air evaporated, environment seemed to disappear, and my breathing, my heart rate, my racing mind slowed, as my heart broke, and became humbled.
“Lord,” I prayed, “whatever happens in the next hour, I completely offer and entrust to you. I don’t know if you will provide through this, or through something else. But I ask this one thing- if you provide…” and my mind began to role play the sort of comfortability and routine that I that would characterize my life 3 months, 6 months, 12 months into a job like the one I was interviewing for, “Lord, may you guard my heart from becoming proud, and may I never forget you. Lord, may you always be my chosen portion, and my cup, you hold my lot.” 
In realizing that the great evil in discontentment is the forgetting and loss of God from my vision and my thoughts, I was able to experience peace, even in my time of “need” and want.
Most of my friends would probably describe me as ambitious. Disciplined. Driven (of course, there is ample room in the comment space below to correct me if I’m wrong). Yet, in that moment, I glistened a taste of the reality that until I learned to “value obedience over affirmation, integrity over achievement, and relationships over “success,”  my soul would not only fall prey to emptiness, but flounder in grave danger.
And I’ll be fully honest – my soul needs to again taste that kiss of contentment in the way I tasted it over two years ago. I’ve noticed that deep underneath most of the prayer requests I share with others is a request that stems from a feeling of dissatisfaction, at work, in school, in ministry, in almost all of my situations in life. And recent meditations have convicted me that contentment and soul rest is really the true needed response to my soul’s longing and hurt.
May I learn to resist the lies of this world, and draw closer to the spring of promise – “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”
 Francis de Sales, Thy Will Be Done: Letters to Persons in the World, 48.
 Gary Thomas, Authentic Faith, 169.
 Ps 16:5, another passage of meditation during that summer of job hunting
 Paraphrased from Thomas, 189.
 1 Tim 6:6