Tag Archives: contentment

Choosing Contentment

A few years ago, a mission trip took me to a small church in Africa. The sights the smells and the culture will forever shape my life. The experience was life-altering in ways I can’t begin to describe.

On one particular night, I was on duty in the back section of the church with a small group of the local children in tow. I was a favorite amongst them, due primarily to the fact that my fair skin and hair was such a novelty. As the work progressed in the front of the church, we carried on hushed conversations in the back – away from the stern glances of the adults.
In addition to my unusual looks, I was from America. To these children, just the name “America” seemed to hold mystic and promise. They asked me longingly about the fashion, the boy bands, and a world where they imagined they could all be super-stars. The general opinion was that America consisted of nothing but the movie stars, and popularity. They saw America through romantic colored glasses, and it had become their fairytale.

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At first I was somewhat amused. My childhood in the rural farm communities of the United States was very different from their perception of America as “one big Hollywood.“ I gently tried to tell them of my life experiences and lead them to a broader view of the vast country and diverse lives that make up America. We talked about their lives and I told them about all of the beautiful things I had seen in their country – the strange and yet awe-inspiring customs, the sense of community and tradition that we have lost. In their wistful faces I saw that nothing I told them was going to change their opinion. They wanted to experience the wonders of America for themselves.

How I wished that I could impart some breathtaking bit of wisdom on these children, and leave them eager to change their own country for the better. To make them want to stand up for all that is good, for their own dreams and become positive members of their society. I left them wishing in could change their perspective, but incredible grateful that they had changed mine.

The perspective from these kids made me realize how quickly I do the same thing in life. How often I have given the unknown all of the delightful pleasure I wish it to have with none of the daily hardships. Our society rushes from one product to another, the next destination place, the latest iPhone, and yet we are just as unhappy as we were before.

It all comes down to this little thing called contentment. We have to learn to accept the things we cannot change and appreciate what we have before we can make this world a better place.

Being content with what we have is acceptance. To accept is to recognize the beauty in what we have, and not to focus on what we do not have. We read in the First Letter to Timothy, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”

A lesson in contentment learned from a group of young children in a foreign country, and a lesson I hope I never forget. I recall their smiling, wistful faces, and it gives me courage to choose to live today, grateful, recognizing humanity for what it is, and choosing to be content.

Peace for the Covetous Heart

Of all the commandments, “Thou shalt not covet,” never seemed the most difficult. I knew that I could be materialistic, could focus on things over people, and could be envious of another’s success. Yet, I told myself that most times I would never want something bad enough to take it from someone else. Of course, when we think we have something under control that usually means it is an area Satan is winning without a fight.  I was not really aware of my struggle with covetousness until a priest described it as wanting a life other than the one that God has willed for us.  Suddenly, I saw myself in a new light. How often had I wrestled with God, praying through gritted teeth “Thy will be done”?  So many times I found myself calling to God, “This isn’t fair! Don’t I deserve a break?” On rough days, I have even, in my secret heart, wished that I had a different life.  Unconsciously, I was allowing covetousness to fill me with anger, fear, and ingratitude.

In a culture obsessed with wealth, consumption, and worldly success, Christians know that we have to be on our guard against greed – the material side of covetousness.  We need to check ourselves with Christ’s words that it is possible to “gain the whole world but lose your soul” (Matt. 16:26).  When we covet, we put the things we desire over our relationships with others and with God.  We set our hearts on lesser things.  Like most of us who aren’t saints yet, I have not yet mastered my thoughts and desires so that they are focused on heaven. But the tangible things like houses, clothes, cars, and the latest technology aren’t the only things that pull our gaze away from our heavenly goal, and, in many cases, they aren’t the most dangerous.

We are called to trust God to provide for us, just as He does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. While many times that means waiting on God to provide for our material needs, it also means that we have to trust him with our emotional and spiritual needs as well. We have to trust that we are where we are and who we are for a reason, just as a bird does not wish to be a fish or a flower a tree. That we are created for a purpose and equipped with what we need to fulfill that purpose.

It can be so easy to see someone else and think “there is someone equipped with what they need for a happy life.” Whether we are envying their abilities, their temperament, their vocation, or something else about their situation in life, we are giving into the spirit of covetousness. With social media, it is increasingly easy to covet the lives of others from afar. When we hold our lives up to the filtered, edited, and showcased lives of others, we think, “They have it all together. I am not as happy or as holy or as fulfilled as that person.”  Even without knowing it, we can find ourselves dissatisfied and discontented. We can lose the peace that comes with trusting God.

Our culture encourages us to seize the “life that we deserve,” which often means that we are left floundering when the life we have doesn’t look like the ideal of those around us. There is nothing wrong with working toward a goal or believing that we can improve. But when a sense of entitlement leads to a discontented and covetous heart, we can lash out with anger, doubt our own worth, and lose sight of the life with which God has blessed us.

The antidote for all the kinds of covetous greed that eat away at our soul is simple: contentment. We are to rest peacefully in God’s will for our lives. St. Paul, who throughout his missionary journeys lived in a constant state of dependence on God and waiting on His will, said “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content.” (Phillipians 4:11) Even though it can be difficult to discern God’s will, that does not mean we should cease trying or substitute our own vision.  The life that God has given us, the crosses we have to bear, and the path of vocation which He has set before us are tailor-made for the persons He made us to be.

When we feel ill-at-ease in our own skin, restless at heart, and unready to take up the burdens that seem unfair in our lives, we have to choose not to react with anger and fear. Giving into covetous thoughts will never bring us happiness or peace, because they lead us in the wrong direction – taking from others to fulfill our desires.  We can only learn to be content if we trust our Father no matter how dark the road and how ill-equipped we seem to travel it. Thankfully, St. Paul tells us how he has learned contentment: “I can do all these things in Him who strengthens me.” (Phillipians 4:14)  Christ, who trusted His father and submitted to His Will to the point of death, can give us the ability to destroy the power of covetousness over our hearts and to rest content in the knowledge that His love is guiding us Home.

Waking Up to Your Vocation

“Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing…”

As a mom to a toddler and a preschooler, I spend a lot of time listening to “kids’ songs.” So it isn’t surprising that I was thinking about the words to “Frere Jacques” the other day.  In the English translation most of us sing about how “morning bells are ringing” to wake up the sleepy brother.  If you remember the original French, however, it’s the “matines” that are sounding, the bells for Matins, the morning office.  This got me thinking about what life would be like if every day I was awakened by mass bells, if my days were punctuated by the call to prayer.

I have always been enthralled by the idea of a life sculpted by the liturgy.  As a student of history, I imagined living during a time when the community’s year was inescapably enmeshed in the cycle of the Church’s fasts and feasts. The book of hours,the monastic rule, the medieval parish, seen through the rosy glow of a fresh convert, seemed like magical paths to holiness.  It seemed almost unfair that others could have everything they needed to do laid out for them, literally spelled out on the page.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, romanticizing other times and situations.  To think: “If only a lived then or there, I would be holy. If only I had that vocation, I could live it with ease.”  A married mother envies the sister praying hourly in the adoration chapel. A single man thinks he could live a better life if he could just find a good Catholic girl, or be sure he was meant for the priesthood. The grass is always greener on the other side of the vocational fence.

The thing about vocations is that they are personal — tailored for us. Our vocation is the path set out for us to lead us to Heaven.  There are no accidents in how God has laid out that path, just as there no mistakes about the time and place we are born. Even finding your vocation is no guarantee of holiness.  I used to think that once I figured out my vocation, everything would fall in to place, but knowing and living are two very different things.

Hearing the bells every morning does not guarantee you will rise  to pray with joy in your heart.

We are each of us given a vocation, but whether we have found it or not, we have to choose intentionally to live it the best we can, with the grace of God, and to start now.  Being a good wife and mother starts before your marriage and continues after your last child is born.  Living as a godly priest or brother begins before you take your vows, and even before you darken the door of a seminary or monastery.  If a Christian is meant to live singly in the world then they are, unawares, already on the right path.

Every vocation comes with its own unique challenges, thus its own tools and rewards.  Rather than focusing on the challenges of our vocation, we need to start using the tools and cherishing the rewards. Envy, complaining, and discontent never bring us closer to God.  There are no easy ways to holiness, but there is a way, uniquely created for us.  There are as many journeys to holiness as there are saints. Let us not envy our brothers and sisters their journey, but embrace our own, and thus our cross.

So the next time we wake– to the sound of ringing bells, a buzzing alarm, or a baby’s cries–let’s pray that we each rise ready to take on our own singularly great task.