Stewarding the Space Between Contentment and Sorrow
Every Tuesday morning, I gather with a group of men to discuss life, faith and the general state of the world, as we struggle to help each other find our place in it. A few weeks ago, I shared that I was ‘content but not happy’. I asked if it was really possible to hold those two things together at the same time?
I continue to ponder that question and I want to use this week’s blog to invite you into the discussion. Let’s look at the two sentiments separately, and then try to pull them together.
Contentment is a powerful biblical theme. Elihu counseled the suffering Job by reminding him of God’s nature. “He makes them listen to correction and commands them to repent of their evil. If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment” (Job 36:10-11).
Solomon lists contentment as a product of a right fear of the Lord, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).
In the New Testament, Paul finds contentment even amidst life’s hardest times. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:10-12).
He encourages Timothy to instruct those with wealth, teaching them that, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:6-7).
The writer of Hebrews ties it to being free from the love of money, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
Perhaps the best picture of contentment comes from the famous opening lines of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”
We can conclude from these verses that godly contentment is a disposition of the spirit that is gleaned from a fear, trust and reliance on God, and a recognition that we are and will always be in his loving care. Whatever our need might be, he has met it and will always meet it.
Using this definition, I can truly say I am content. My heart is at peace with regard to my relationship to Christ, my trust in his presence and grace and the security of my future in his care. I sleep well and carry a relatively low level of anxiety and stress. It’s not only a good place to be, but to not be content seems an affront to the love and grace of God.
If, however, you asked me if I were happy, I’d say, “no, definitely not.” The predominant feelings I wake up with every morning and carry with me throughout the day are what I would term a holy heaviness. I call it this because when I consider the holiness, goodness and grace of God, then look at the state of the world from whatever angle I choose, my heart is heavy, burdened and even sorrowful. How can it not be? As followers of Jesus how can we not ache at the devastation sin is causing in our world? How can we not be deeply troubled by the non-stop flow of disturbing stories of injustice, hatred and racism? How can we be happy when so many in our world are starving, homeless, and hopeless? How else could we respond when we see the bitterness and vitriol with which our nation’s leaders at every level attack one another?
With narcissism as the new cultural creed and victimhood the prevailing identity of choice, our country is in a moral tailspin. And at the time our nation needs her most, the church is increasingly divided and the attacks on our faith are growing daily. Above all there is a prevailing sense of hopelessness that is driving up suicide rates and robbing a generation of the abundant life promised in Jesus Christ.
This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the reality of our current state. So, how can we live in this world and not feel a sense of heaviness and even grief? To not carry this burden for our neighbor and world would seem irresponsible. This does not mean we are anxious, distressed or discouraged. Instead it is a call to be incarnational in how we live in this world as stewards of the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.
In the face of it all we must cling to the truth Paul proclaimed of his own day, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
Sound familiar? Content but sorrowful. At peace yet burdened. Lacking nothing yet grieving. Can this be? Yes, not only can it be, but I believe it is the proper and best place for us to live and serve as faithful stewards in the kingdom of God.
If we are to be used by God we must steward this place, which means not letting the enemy pull us off too far in either direction. If we focus on our contentment at the cost of our sorrow, we risk allowing a callousness to encrust our hearts and the fruit of the Spirit will rot for lack of use. If we are pulled too deeply into the collective despair of our world, we will be robbed of the peace that comes from abiding in Christ as our provider and lose our witness to his hope.
We must steward this precious place; letting God use our contentment as a witness to his presence and provision that can bring light into a dark world and using our sorrow to keep us in solidarity with the world, equipping us to serve our neighbor as the hands and feet of Jesus.
Godly contentment and holy heaviness; may we experience both and steward this precious place, ever-prepared for God to use us for his glory.