Contentment is not a word that is used very much these days. We hear a lot about stressed out, overwhelmed, overworked, violent massacres, mysterious disappearances, and all other manner of dis-content. But then, just look at the definition of contentment, and maybe we will see why we don’t hear much about it today. Contentment is defined as an ease of mind, being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are, or assenting to or willing to accept circumstances or a proposed course of action. Contentment’s synonyms are gratification, fulfillment, happiness, pleasure, and cheerfulness! Satisfaction, cheerfulness, ease of mind, accepting things as they are? Sound like you or me?
While many of us may view contentment as weak and wimpy, according to some perspectives, true contentment is the highest goal of life, and true contentment takes work. Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the late 19th century prolific writer and theologian said of it, “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.”
However, according to one biblical perspective, contentment is a state of being not dependent on circumstances: “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” —Holman Bible Dictionary. And the Qur’an states, “Truly it is in the remembrance of Allah (God) that hearts can find contentment. Qur’an – 13:29. From a Christian perspective, our needs are considered in the equation of contentment, and contentment comes from having every true need supplied: “And my God will fill to the full your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Phil.4:19 (Amplified Bible).
Well, these days, I am truly learning about contentment. The biggest lesson came three days ago. There I was, rushing to get ready to go on vacation. I had stayed up until 2 a.m. paying bills, preparing mailings, and getting the home health aides lined up for my aunt B’s care. (Aunt B is my 107-year-old maternal auntie who lives with me) and everything was done now! At 7 a.m. I took off racing down the 101 south to meet my friends in Ventura and to journey to the ship at Long Beach to sail at 10 a.m. to Catalina Island. There was to be snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, and just relaxing in the hot tubs of the island, all with no working agendas.
So there I was, speeding down the 101 south at 80 miles an hour only five minutes away from my mini-vacation when, suddenly, yes, there he was. In my rear view mirror I could see him come out of nowhere, following ME, with his flashy red lights and black-and-white car, and after 50 years of driving without a speeding ticket, I heard his demanding voice, “PULL OVER AT THE NEXT EXIT.”
Talk about dis-content! “But you don’t understand. I am going on vacation … I have been a caregiver for my family for 12 years, and I’m still caring for my mom’s elder sister … You don’t understand I haven’t had a vacation in 10 years. I NEED A VACATION! I’m going to miss this one because I need to meet them right now so we can be in Long Beach by 10 a.m.” No response. “And I’m a hospice chaplain, too, caring for many other families at the end of life, and I NEED THIS VACATION!” No response. Finally, “License, registration, and insurance card. Is this your current address?”
As he walked away from my car, I cried, knowing that I would miss my friends who really needed to leave to be on time for the boat. So I called them. “Go on without me. You’ll be late.” I turned my car around but saw that at this exit there wasn’t even an on-ramp going south, so I had to go back. I got back on the 101, heading north now, and pondered whether to go back home. But I reasoned that the caregivers were all in place, so maybe I would just saunter up the road to Big Sur again or Avila Beach. But as I approached Highway 150 I heard a still small voice — “Turn here.”
So I headed toward the Ojai Valley and discovered the true meaning of contentment as my eyes and heart took in the wonders of the early morning sun bouncing and glistening in and out of the valley forests and dancing sacredly among the morning mist and verdant and green treetops.
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. –Cicero
In nature I was content and communing with God, and as I pulled over to look down on the still waters of Lake Casitas, I realized that perhaps that police officer was an angel slowing me down so I could smell all the roses all around me, in my own backyard. And perhaps if we just hugged our children more, smiled at strangers longer, and just stopped and watered our own souls right where we are, then our broken and weary hearts would find that ever-present, powerful source of contentment — love — in the everyday, all around us. May you find contentment today! Look, there it is beside you!
One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance [discovered]. —Robert Browning.
Akivah Northern is a certified Family Wellness Trainer and holds a Master in Divinity from Yale. Her biweekly column explores the deeper heart in all its dimensions. She welcomes heartfelt questions from readers of all ages at firstname.lastname@example.org.