For the past two years I’ve taught a seminar at RUF Summer Conference called “The Secret of Contentment.” Since there are so many great seminars offered throughout the week, I didn’t expect many students to come to a seminar on contentment. While I was prepared to teach for two hours, I really anticipated having a handful of students show up with us circling chairs for a small group discussion. I was blown away in that first hour when the room was packed with students. While our time together was encouraging and the students’ questions were insightful, I couldn’t help but notice a sense that this concept of contentment seemed largely elusive. So I thought it would be helpful to share some thoughts from my seminar on contentment and hope you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful as well.
First and foremost, Christian contentment is learned. Twice in Philippians 4, the apostle Paul speaks of learning contentment. In 4:11 he says he has “learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Later in 4:12, he writes that he has “learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger…” This is an easily overlooked point in our Christian walk. Contentment is not a character trait that comes automatically with faith, but is one that has to be learned. We often forget how challenging and awkward it is to learn something new. As I watch my kids learn how to throw a baseball, their motion looks awkward at first and no doubt feels unnatural to them. Over time, with practice and repetition, the awkwardness disappears and gives way to fluency and ease of motion. With kids who are 7, 5, 3, and 1 I have a constant representation of the progression in learning to throw a baseball!
So how does this apply to contentment? The apostle Paul writes of learning contentment in both good times and bad, whether well fed or hungry. Often our response to hard times is a response of frustration, anger, or discouragement, which only leads to further feelings of discontentment. The cycle continues and the contentment we long for eludes us. However, since contentment is a trait that is learned, we shouldn’t be surprised that the proper responses of faith and trust to life’s disappointments and hardships may feel awkward and unnatural at first. So it is with learning any new skill. But those initial faithful steps are the first steps in learning contentment. With time, repetition, and continued application of Gospel truths, we too can learn to find contentment. It’s not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But the peace that comes with a contented heart is a beautiful picture of Gospel faithfulness that is a worthy goal.