By Karen Hendricks
Today, as I write this, there are horrific scenes coming out of the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan: complete devastation, bodies in makeshift graves, debris everywhere. The scenes out of America’s mid-west are also disturbing. Tornadoes ravaged Illinois and Indiana last weekend, however, thankfully the death toll was extremely low. Natural disasters are especially hard to comprehend during the holiday season.
Turn on the TV or radio (even the :15 ads on Pandora Radio), check your mailbox, pick up a newspaper, and you’ll be bombarded by ads promoting Black Friday specials. The Christmas holiday season however, doesn’t seem to be kicking off on Black Friday. Instead, it’s invading the turkey-induced peacefulness of Thanksgiving evening. Lots of stores are opening their doors Thursday night so that shoppers can allegedly get the best bargains. What happened to the meaning behind Thanksgiving, the thankfulness that we’re supposed to be honoring?
So in the wake of natural disasters, death, devastation and the pure greed of Black Thursday/Friday shopping… I am offering a solution: being content.
Last spring, I wrote about “the margins” in our lives (click here)—the need for unstructured time in which to breathe, reconnect with friends and family and simply “be.” I have since finished reading the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson, M.D. My women’s group had some awesome discussions that are still rattling around in my brain!
One of the lasting impressions from this book is the idea of being “content.” What does it truly mean to be content? I thought I knew… but the book helped me to see contentedness in a new light.
From the chapter “Health Through Contentment,” under the subtitle “Inextinguishable Discontent,” Swenson writes, “Discontent as a driving force for a society might make that society rich, but it will bankrupt it in the end. As the coffer fills, the soul empties.”
I always thought of “contentment” as “happiness,” being satisfied with what I had, what I earned, where I was in life. However since the book Margin is written from a Christian perspective, Swenson defines contentment as a two-step process: not only accepting whatever comes from God’s hand, but also putting our faith and trust in God. It’s having a peaceful, secure feeling that God has our back. It’s “a joy that exists in spite of circumstances and looks to the God who never varies.”
Swenson writes that contentment is not:
- “the comfortable feeling of well-being when all our needs and desires are met”
- Pursuit of the American dream
- Keeping our circumstances under control
- Pretending that things are right when they’re not
Consulting another source… Being content is defined as “An internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.”—Holman Bible Dictionary
I know it’s a lot to absorb! But more and more, given the headlines, I am trying to be content, at peace, and thankful.
One other area of my life has me examining this feeling of contentment. So many friends of mine are returning to work, driven by a desperate feeling that they need to earn money towards their children’s college fund(s). Let me tell you, as a parent of a college freshman, I can testify that the cost of college can indeed send you into a tailspin. And I don’t blame them for feeling this sense of desperation.
However, I realize more and more that I am not living out “the norm” by stepping off the merry-go-round of crazy-paced, full-time employment while many of my friends are jumping back on that same carousel. Working for myself, enjoying a handful of clients and the work they send my way, has given me wonderful fulfillment, more time for my family and finally—some margin in my life. A combination of factors helps us afford the cost of college: yes, both of our jobs for which we are thankful, but also an examination of our family spending and our efforts to reduce those costs where we can—trimming our phone/cable bills, trimming grocery bills, cutting out extravagances, etc. This helps separate needs from wants. It’s a challenge, in our society, to be content with life and put complete faith in God.
Food for thought, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday.
Wishing all of our readers a joyful, blessed Thanksgiving—filled with a renewed sense of contentment.