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Cultivating contentment

Learning to live joyfully with what is

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Here’s a snapshot of my fickle and inconstant heart: I was at a charming little mountain coffee shop near my home the other day when I spied in the pastry case several slices of banana bread, each hand-swaddled in plastic wrap. Problem was, they were very generous slices, and I wasn’t all that hungry.

“I’d love to have some of that,” I thought. “I just wish the slices were smaller.”

Under the circumstances, I had no business ordering it, so of course, I ordered it. After which, I took the banana bread to a table, unwrapped it, and huffed ­indignantly, “This is an awfully small slice!”

I laughed out loud at my malcontent self right there in the coffee shop. Hopefully, God was laughing, too, and not hovering over the SMITE button on His remote.

To be fair, part of it was economics. After I unwrapped it, I didn’t feel the price was fair for such a measly portion. Still, I wanted a small slice, got it, and wasn’t happy. Wretched woman that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

“Godliness with contentment is great gain,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

That got me thinking about contentment. It’s dif­ferent than gratitude, which is being thankful for what you have. Merriam-Webster offers some contentment synonyms: Pleased. Satisfied. Happy. Those work, sort of, but they feel temporal and fleeting. I like the definition I found on the Bible-answers website, GotQuestions.org: Contentment is “the state of being mentally or emotionally satisfied with things as they are.”

As they are. Whoa. Instantly, I flashed back to 2013. By then I had struggled with undiagnosed chronic Lyme disease for three years. Among other debilitating symptoms, I suffered from severe fatigue and spent most days lying on the couch without even enough energy to hold a telephone to my ear. Worse was the cognitive decline: I actually lost my ability to read and write. I told my publisher I didn’t know if I would ever work again.

I spent most of my time on that couch simmering with fear and frustration. Why is this happening? Would I ever get better? Didn’t God know I had important things to do? I was powerless to change anything, but stayed whipped up inside all the same. After awhile, I noticed that my mental and emotional discontent ­actually made my physical symptoms worse.

Sometimes, though, I was able to give it all to God and live in a caesura of acceptance, content in His ­sovereign plan for me. During these times, I felt a warm, spreading peace. I also felt better physically. Being ­satisfied with things as they were helped me live joyfully in God’s present—which is really all we have—instead of longing for the past or fearing the future.

After the Banana Bread Incident, it occurred to me that perhaps contentment is like a muscle you have to exercise or a vine you train to grow in a certain direction. So the other day, I was driving down my curvy mountain road behind a garbage truck, going 17 in a 35. After a few minutes, irritation took a swipe at me, but I dodged it with a Karate Kid wax-on/wax-off mental feint. Man’s just doing his job, I thought on purpose, and relaxed. And then I noticed what a beautiful day it was after weeks of freakish California rain.

I hope this year to cultivate contentment, to embrace it as a Biblical lifestyle, and joyfully cooperate with God. I like the way God’s World News managing editor Rebecca Cochrane put it in an insightful response to a recent companywide devotional:

“Lately I’ve been feeling more ‘resigned to’ God’s will than ‘rejoicing in’ God’s will,” Rebecca wrote. “This [devotional] helped me shift my thinking some, back toward embracing the hard and the unexpected and the divergent paths that aren’t part of my plan, and to more than resign myself to acceptance, but to seek to boldly welcome His ways, despite my lack of understanding.”

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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