Friday, July 4, 2014

The Secret to Contentment

We are heading up north this week to visit my brother Dave. He has recently retired and moved to a tiny home that he built for himself on the edge of a wooded section of a friend’s farm. There is no driveway. He has to walk a kilometer or so from the spot where he parks his car. He has no electricity and no plumbing and no internet or phone line. There is an outhouse and eventually he will dig a well. For now there is a trail through the bush to the river for summer bathing and all his drinking water has to be hauled in from town. He does have a woodstove and a tiny propane fridge which he considers the height of luxury. There is also a propane camp stove. He has his books and his guitar and he is content.

I am looking forward to experiencing a taste of his life but I can’t help wondering if
I could ever be content with so little. It’s one thing to visit for a couple of days when you know you can go back to showers and flush toilets, electric lights and emails at the end of it. Could I give up those comforts more permanently? I’m not so sure.

There is a secret to being content. Paul talks about it in Philippians 4. He says that he has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” If Paul learned it maybe I can too.

Genuine contentment is a rare thing in our culture where everyone always seems to be striving for more. More comfort, more money, more entertainment, more recognition, everything bigger, better, more up to date… The list goes on and on. I am not immune. I know I often confuse the things I want with what I actually need. If I’m not careful I can slip into the habit of comparing my life to someone else’s and wanting what they have rather than what I’ve been blessed with. That’s a sure path to chronic discontent rather than gratitude, peace or joy.

Perhaps learning the secret to contentment isn’t all that complicated. I expect, like anything else you want to learn well, it will take practice. I can practice not making those cursed comparisons. I can also cultivate a habit of thankfulness. I’ve learned that gratitude is often a choice rather than a feeling. Last but not least, when I take a closer look at that passage in Philippians I see that Paul went on to say that the secret lay in knowing that he could handle any and every situation through Christ who gave him strength. With practice I will discover that to be true for me too.
I’ll try to remember that when I have to make a midnight run to the outhouse in bear country.

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