G. K. Chesterton once said “True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.”
So true. Real contentment is something that doesn’t come “naturally” in a world that is always telling you you are lacking something and need to pursue that thing to be happy! In fact, I will go so far as to say that seeking to be happy rather than to be content is the source of most of our problems in life. When one realizes that happiness is a choice and not a destination or dependent on outside circumstances, and that CONTENTMENT is the real goal we should be working towards, then life seems to find its proper equilibrium. But most of us expend vast amounts of time and energy seeking happiness when we should be working (and working hard) for a contented life.
What is contentment? Contentment is the ability to actually see what you have rather than constantly focusing on what you don’t have. Contentment is the freedom and insight that mines the joy out of each moment you are presently in without polluting those moments with false expectations or impatient desires. Contentment is actually seeing reality for what it is and not succumbing to the twin prisons of “What I am afraid of” and “What I desire.”
In today’s Epistle Lesson St. Paul gives us difficult insights into the power of contentment and our calling to “BE” content.
Look at 1 Corinthians 17:12-24, and especially verses 17-24:
“Only, let every one lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him, and in which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was any one at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was any one at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Every one should remain in the state in which he was called. Were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.
For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God.”
Notice how St. Paul helps us “see” the value of our initial “place” before he tells us anything else. The key to contentment lies in priorities!
First, before you go looking around for “greener grass,” make sure you’ve explored the spiritual treasures where you are! This flows from a foundational reality – God KNOWS you! You are where you are for a reason, but until you know that reason, that insight, you’ll never be fully prepared to take the next step in your life. Begin by trusting that there is value to where you are! Even if its the value of teaching you NEVER to be there again!
Next, distinguish between maturity and impatience. Notice St. Paul instructs us to remain in the state we are “called” (verse 20). A spiritual maturity allows me to be at peace with where I am FIRST before I am able to grow beyond the place where I am. Impatience drives me to leave where I am BEFORE I’m ready and that leads to a lack of peace.
Finally, understand that contentment flows not from ambition or “achievement” (by the way “achievement” according to whom?) but from the twin virtues of trust and peace in keeping “the commandments of God.” (verse 19)
Today, do you feel like a slave? Know there are valuable and unrepeatable lessons of wisdom in the “freedom” of your slavery! Do you revelle in your freedom? Know there are spiritual treasures galore in the “slavery” of your so-called freedom. Becoming still enough in your life to discover these spiritual treasures will make you truly able to do the strenuous work of contentment and grow in Christ rather than the frenzied “busyness” of thoughtless ambition. Life has such treasures for us in this present moment. No wonder the enemy of your soul has you comparing and looking elsewhere for your happiness. He knows that if you allow yourself the hard work of contentment, he will lose the opportunity to steal your joy and peace! BE content and do this hard work in this moment. The treasures you will uncover are simply irreplaceable! Because you will be Orthodox on Purpose!