Content in a season of discontent


Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty … . I can do all things through him who strengthens me. — Philippians 4:11-13

Not too long ago, I visited someone in an assisted-care facility. We’ll call the person Paul.

Paul has made a home in this place for more than 10 years. We talked of up-coming holidays and how the time would be spent.

As conversation turned to Christmas, Paul surprised me by saying that he informed family: "I don’t need any Christmas presents. I’ve got everything I need.”

"I don’t know -- does that make me a Scrooge or Grinch?” Paul asked hesitantly.

On the contrary, it reminded me of the above words from Philippians: "I have learned to be content.” These words were written by a much older Paul, a Paul who was a bit of a Scrooge or a Grinch early in his life, but who was transformed through an experience with the risen Jesus.

Being content might not seem like the highest spiritual goal that Christians could ever aspire to. However, with the arrival of December and along with it all of the pressures of America’s consumerist version of Christmas, I wonder if being content might just be one of the most challenging spiritual practices for Christians.

If you feel up to it, this Advent you might try your hand at the spiritual practice of being content the next time you turn on the TV and the Christmas commercials assault you.

After all, isn’t the fundamental tool of advertising to show you that you are discontent with your self or life in a subtle or not-so-subtle way and then, of course, offer you a product for a small cost that promises to transform your winter of discontent into a glorious summer.

Perhaps just writing about this makes me a Scrooge or a Grinch as well.

But didn’t the Grinch’s revelation and transformation come from noticing the village of Whoville was content with Christmas even without all the stuff we associate with it (gifts, ornaments, a big meal, etc.)?

And wasn’t Scrooge’s revelation and transformation about being content -- that being content is less about accumulation of miserly riches and more about helping those in need around you?

Here are four ways to transform the discontent that we often associate with America’s version of getting ready for Christmas:

• Worship fully: Entering the story of Advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.

• Spend less: Consider that America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. Ask people to consider buying one less gift this Christmas. Just one.

• Give more: God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible.

• Love all: When Jesus loved, he loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins.

Of course, Christmas will come whether we are ready or not, whether we are content or not. And it is God’s love born in Christ Jesus (not our doings or practices) that we rely on to transform our discontentment. Indeed, we can do all things worth doing through him who strengthens us.


Originally posted Nov. 26, 2010, at Custer Lutheran Fellowship. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Kent Narum’s blog Custer Lutheran Fellowship at Lutheran Blogs.

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