“Now true religion does bring great riches, but only to those who are content with what they have. For we have brought nothing into the world; and we can take nothing out of it; so if we have food and clothing, we will be satisfied with these.”
A single word: “contentment”, so much wisdom, value, and peace wrapped up in it. Contentment is a loaded expectation for some, a destination for others, still others believe it to be a goal. Paul, Solomon, mystics, countless humble, loving people, along with others throughout history, cultures, philosophies, spiritualities, and lives lived for eons, knew, that contentment is a way of life and a way of seeing life all around us.
In looking back through all of the Men Building Bridges posts, I noticed something, something I knew but hadn’t yet written about it. I’d written around it, christians, or those who call themselves ‘christians’, especially in America, are some of the most vocally dissatisfied, unhappy, discontented, judgmental, angry, accusing, miserable people I know. However well-intended, no one is really interested if that’s what it is all about. And frankly, I’m not interested. Nature is all the cathedral I need. We all know at least one, one person, when we think of someone who is never satisfied, always complaining, always envious of what they think others have, money, fame, prestige, power, position, influence, importance. They’re the same people who repeatedly exclaim, “It must be nice to …”, or “I wish I …”, or “If only I … “. They’re invariably the same people, who, in their constant dissatisfaction jump from job to job, company to company, relationship to relationship, group of friends to group of friends, from place of worship to place of worship, from controversy to controversy, from argument to argument, all the while, missing the point: contentment.
When talking with these individuals, there are a few commonalities, the first: In seeing everything in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, they create an adversarial approach from the beginning. To them it’s never about understanding or comprehending others, it always HAS to be right or wrong, black or white, and someone else’s fault that they’re not content. The reasons given are actually people: husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, siblings, parents, friends, co-workers, bosses, strangers, customers, enemies. When asked “Why?”, it’s always because “They did…”, or “They didn’t..”. There is no “We” in their lexicon.
Further questions reveal “They’re wrong…”, “They’re not right…” or “That’s wrong…” or “That’s not right…”. A few more patterns begin to emerge: these individuals left job after job after job because of everything the employer or managers, or fellow employees constantly did wrong, they left relationship after relationship after relationship because of what the OTHER person always did wrong, they left religion after religion, tradition after tradition, place of worship after place of worship after place of worship because of what wasn’t being done right, they argued with OTHER family members, spouses, friends, or co-workers, bosses because of everything the OTHER person was doing WRONG. Sight was limited to Always and Never, All or Nothing, no acknowledgement of a middle ground for meeting upon was possible.
Not once, did any of these individuals willingly offer up themselves as a possibility, or even consider the possibility, that they, themselves, may at the very least, be contributing to the problem, let alone admit, that the problem, the root of their discontent, just might lay within themselves.
The irony of all of this? Individuals like this are actually sabotaging their own contentment or any chance at contentment, with themselves, or everyone and everything else around them. This also extends to those thinking they see greener on the other side of the fence, telling themselves, “If I just had …. ” one more thing, one more different colored thing, a new house, a new car, a new husband, a new wife, new friends, a new girlfriend, a new boyfriend, a new job, a new employer, a new life, a new body, a new car, a new church, a new religion, it will be better. Something new and different always fixes the problem. The problem with this kind of thinking? It completely avoids any personal responsibility for improvement. When these individuals actually GET the new job, the new house, car, spouse, friends, careers, employers, churches, religion, clothes, the NEW THING – they soon realize, they’re still the same: dissatisfied. The second, third, fourth home, remodel, mortgage, makeover, fashion intervention, car, boat, plane, spouse, family, career was no more satisfying over time, than all the ones that had come before as ‘everyone’ (else) ‘always’ ‘ruins it’ for them. Repeatedly exclaiming, ‘This always happens.”. No wonder.
The result is, these individuals try all the harder within their frame of belief system, praying harder and louder for OTHERS to change, working harder and more hours for OTHER circumstances to change, for everything OTHER than themselves, to change, for more, better, different, bigger, better things and people to fill their discontent from the outside in.
They miss the glaringly obvious point staring themselves in the face: Everything they so dislike and are so discontented about begins with themselves. They’ve lost themselves in the chameleon/lemming pursuit of discontent at everyone else’s expense. They are most discontented with themselves and it colors every relationship and how they perceive everything and everyone else around them. Contentment begins within and starts within. This has been known for a long time, and still is. Contentment is a way of looking at everything and everyone around us, at once accepting, peaceful, and full of love. It is also a painfully honest way of living, full of humility and grace.
Again, contentment starts within. All change starts with ourselves, from within. How do I know this? I speak from personal experience. 20 years ago, I wanted to blame my unhappiness, sorrow, grief, loss, anger, pain, discontent on anyone and anything OTHER than myself. I pursued the Job, House, Neighborhood, Car, Truck, Boat, Club, relationship, career, ever changing to do list along with anything else in my skewed eternal quest. In looking for, and at, what was wrong with everyone and everything else, I found exactly that: what was wrong with everyone and everything else. And you know what? The answer humbled me as I knew it all along: ME! I had stubbornly denied & refused to admit it until the truth of it crushed and ground me into the powder I’d become so long ago: It was me.
It was my own inability to realize and admit that contentment started with myself. It had blinded my ability to see ANYTHING, all, that was already right and good in my life and others’ lives, all around me. Not that all religions were this way, but it had been a nurtured constant in the cultures in my life from a very young age. At that moment, it started with the fact that I was, amazingly, still, alive – despite being held-up, carjacked, divorced, broke, having multiple sudden freak emergency surgeries, gut-wrenching loss of family and friends through death, suicide, accident, estrangement, life, home, job, everything – I was, still, gratefully, breathing, and against all odds, alive, and above ground.
Which brings me to my closing, final point: There can be no contentment without humble, grateful, thankfulness. In that moment, grateful to be alive, alone, in a dark place all those years ago, I was suddenly free, freed from the chains of my own and others’ expectations, from my own desires for vindication, vengeance, and from all of the chains of my own forging. “How ironic”, I thought, and laughed. I laughed first, at the absurdity of realizing it was ME and how I saw everything and everyone else, then I laughed at myself, for the first time in YEARS. Something, by the way, I recommend everyone regularly do: laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
Contentment started with humble gratefulness, for whatever state I found myself in: whether it was illness, solitude, unemployment, bankruptcy, employment, married, single, divorce, healthy, or sick – sincere, humble, grateful thankfulness gave way to contentment, which gave way to simple, humble, joyful, graceful love.
Love? Love then becomes the transformative power not only in my own life, but in those all around me. I cannot change anyone else, attempting to do so is futile. That is their own task, never mine. That is grace, giving others the same freedom I myself have. I can share, teach if asked and if I know, and be content. The only task assigned to me: Love, encourage, be kind to others, be constant in and out of need. In contentment, I found myself, free. I found grace and freedom to love others unconditionally, with no agenda, no blame, no vindictiveness, no vengeance, no anger and no need to change anyone else other than myself. There is no contentment without humble gratefulness, there is no love without grace and contentment.
I’m not perfect, nor have I ever claimed to be. The lesson of contentment has been repeated in my life, perhaps not to the dramatic extent that caused my profound life-change all those years ago, but, as a reminder: be content, no matter the circumstances . Always look for the good, the right, the kind, the gentle, the encouraging. If I see none, then I will do it and it will then be there: the good, the right, the kind, the gentle and the encouraging. In looking not to my discontent with others, I will then see the good in others and everything around me. Contentment, then, is a choice, a daily, moment by moment choice. The ancients knew this, do you?
“Be cheerful no matter what”
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing”
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
“true god-liness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.”
“And some soldiers questioning, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”
” A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones..”
“And all that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” King Solomon
“Let your character be free from the love of money, being content with what you have; I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”
“Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”