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Reimagining Contentment

An Axis Course On Advent and Your Family

It’s midweek again! Congrats on making it this far despite all your other holiday commitments.

So far this week, we’ve talked about how consumerism promises to fulfill and satisfy us with things, only to leave us wanting more. We then talked about how cultivating a perspective of gratitude can change our expectations, enabling us to see the many things we take for granted as gifts. Today we want to unpack what it means to be content and joyful in the here and now, regardless of one’s circumstances.

As mentioned already, the first step toward doing so is cultivating the habit of gratitude. But it’s not enough to simply notice the little things and give thanks for them. Telling your kids “be grateful!” won’t magically make them so, nor will it cure them of their envy (we’re guessing your kids’ Christmas lists haven’t suddenly gotten shorter?). We must help them find what Paul called “the secret of being content in any and every situation” and learn “to be content whatever the circumstances.”

Typically when we hear those words, we picture Paul confined in prison or shipwrecked or something equally dreadful, imagining how hard it would be to be content while alone in a cell for two years. We don’t picture him living lavishly, full belly and all, and think, “Poor guy, it must be so hard to be happy when he has so much!” Yet he specifically says he has learned the secret of being content “whether living in plenty or in want” (emphasis added). And based on what we see in our world of plenty today, it’s quite possible that contentment is harder to achieve during bountiful times. Maybe that’s part of why Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had.

But as Paul said, it is possible to learn contentment no matter how much one has. But it requires resetting our imaginations. In a famous sermon, C.S. Lewis put it this way:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We lack contentment not because we dream too big but because we dream too small. We think an object or an experience or a job or a significant other will make us happy, so when it doesn’t, we turn to the next earthly thing. We cannot imagine the richness God offers, so we settle. But really, all the pretty, shiny, exciting things we settle for are just distractions that convince us we need pretty, shiny, exciting things to be content. In this way, our imaginations have been hijacked.

Sometimes, when compared with what the world offers, what God offers—Himself—can seem quite… lame. Boring, even. Yet it’s in our times of want that we realize how we’ve been fooled into believing we need anything but Him. And it’s then that we experience how sweet the gift of God truly is. And the best part? Nothing can take Him away from us, not even our sin or shortcomings, which means we too have discovered Paul’s secret.

Action Steps

Sometime today, or as soon as you’re able, read C.S. Lewis’ words above to your family. Then discuss the following:

  • What do you think C.S. Lewis meant?
  • What do you think it means to be satisfied in Christ alone? Does that actually seem satisfying? Why or why not?
  • Do you think it’s possible to desire Jesus and nothing else? Why or why not? What would it take to get to that point?