Thoughts on Contentment
Quite a while ago now, someone asked me how to be content, particularly in a world full of pain and suffering. The question’s been percolating at the back of my mind for a while. I always meant to post something here, though as is rather obvious, my posting habits are rather slack these days.
The one major thing that I keep coming back to when I think about contentment is that it’s based on having something. It’s really not possible to be content with nothing because we are finite creatures and thus cannot survive without attachment to something. We need food, water, shelter, clothing, etc. The body is not content without these things, at least in the long run. I don’t think the soul can be content without certain basic needs as well. Among those are love, a certain level of freedom, and an assurance of continuance of existence (I’ll shorten that as “safety” here, though that doesn’t really capture the idea). When the soul is in possession of these things, then contentment is possible.
However, the possession of these spiritual needs doesn’t guarantee contentment. We must not only have love, we must also believe that we have it, or we might as well not have it. The same is true of food and water, of course, those it’s perhaps more difficult to imagine not believing you have physical needs when in fact you do. As a possible example of this, perhaps when you are surrounded by mushrooms, you believe that they are poisonous when they are not. There, you are surrounded by food but believe you effectively have none. Likewise, we may have, and indeed do have from God, great amounts of love, but we do not always believe that we have it at a deep level. Some part of us believes that we need something more or different.
And I think that last part may be part of the crux of contentment. We believe that we need something more or different. Isn’t that what discontent means? To think something we have isn’t enough to satisfy us? Therefore, contentment requires that we believe that what we have is already all that we need.
But contentment is also not necessarily a state that we achieve, but a condition along a journey. What our soul needs at one time may not be what it needs at another time, and that may be completely appropriate. What an infant needs in terms of reassurance and care is different than what an adult needs. Our spiritual life may require us to have different things for us to be content at different times. How we attain love, freedom, or safety at one stage of our journey may not be how we do so later, and that’s appropriate.
Some might condemn us or themselves for not being content with God alone, but it may be not only appropriate but necessary at a particular phase of the spiritual life. It may be that one is not able to get one’s needs met in that fashion at the phase they are at, and to demand that one’s needs be met in a way they cannot is to prevent one from ever leaving that phase. How do we grow without the proper nutrients? Seeds can’t get nutrients the same way a flower does, but to say there’s something wrong with the seed until it does gain nutrients as a flower does is to prevent the seed from ever growing into that flower!
All that to say, maybe we have to get our needs met and receive them such that changes our deep beliefs in a way that is different from how others do so or how we have done so before or will do so later. What provides contentment now may not be what does so later.
I feel like I’ve wandered off just a bit, but I suppose the thing that I keep coming back to is this: to be content means that we must get our needs met. If we lack something or if we believe that we lack something, then discontentment is the natural result.
And now as I write this, I realize that discontent becomes another issue, particularly in this culture, but I’ll pause for the moment. Maybe someday I’ll get to pondering that online.