Lent Reflection 2024

Living with Contentment

“I have lived with less than I need, and I have lived with more than I need. I have learned the secret of walking the road of life. Whether I am well-fed or hungry, whether I have more than I need or not enough.”

— Small Man to the Sacred Family in Village of Horses (Philippians 4:12 First Nations Version)

I have seen and heard the famous sequel to this verse used as a motivational statement so often that the context quoted above surprises me. Paul does not say “I can do all things through Christ” after listing his staggering achievements and hardships. Instead, “all things” in this context refers to literal things: his material needs. What can we learn from this during lent?

In America we should probably identify with Paul's statement about living with “more than I need,” but if we're being honest I think that many of us feel the opposite even if we live far above the poverty threshold. I know I do. My broken nature craves more and more without satisfaction, and the modern economy is built to take advantage of and stoke my greed. Last Christmas I decided I wanted a nice analog watch, so I innocently searched “best watches under fifty dollars.” I now have six watches, and while I have been responsible with my purchases, I still spent far more than I planned to, and I constantly find myself suppressing the urge to “research” more. This is a frivolous example, but it demonstrates how external greed can interact with our internal greed to trick us into discontentment even when we live in the richest nation on earth. And so insidious is our broken nature that we can view almost anything as a product. Whether it be what is on our wrists, the people we love, or the hobbies we find joy in, our selfish nature commodifies them so easily.

As Christians the need for contentment goes far beyond the life changing magic of tidying up. While the benefits of de-cluttering and buying less are important, they cannot exceed the benefits of contentment to our soul. Note that Paul has lived with more and less. His solution to the problem of discontentment and varying levels of material success goes beyond what is material and points to our savior, Jesus. How sweet the grace of God, that we can find rest for our souls no matter whether we are rich or poor! That we can look beyond our treasures to the Treasure of Eternal Life in Christ!

I wish I could say that I have been learning contentment through the discipline of giving up a material comfort during lent, but if anything, this lent season has brought more sharply into focus just how impossible it is to be content without Christ. Without my material comfort, there is less to distract me from the restlessness that I use the comfort to cover up. And yet it is also teaching me that contentment, much like fasting or abstinence, is a daily, hourly, minute by minute discipline. We cannot just decide to give something up, just like we cannot just decide to be content. We must endure the pain as we walk the road of life, depending on the grace of our savior Jesus, who gives us strength.

Read more about the First Nations Version of the New Testament here: https://firstnationsversion.com/book/first-nations-version/

#lent #reflection #contentment

First, thank you for reading! To echo a sentiment from Thomas Hardy, I greatly regret that I will never be able to meet you in person and shake your hand, but perhaps we can virtually shake hands via my newsletter, social media, or a cup of coffee sent over the wire. They are poor substitutes, but they can be a real grace in this intractable world.

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