We live in a restless and discontented age. Each day we are confronted with problems and circumstances that test our peace and contentment. We worry about financial problems, health problems and family problems. We are anxious about raising our children, succeeding at work and maintaining a certain standard of living.
Moreover, the pace of our daily lives, the demands of nanosecond technology, and the drive to outdo others are only a few of the factors that contribute to our anxiety and restlessness. We never have enough time or money to do and buy all we think we need. We are a discontented and stressed-out generation.
Why are we discontented? Why are we restless? Perhaps the most challenging obstacle to finding satisfaction in life is that we are constantly in want. We live in what someone has called the “prison of want.” We always want what is bigger, nicer, faster and newer. We want a new job, a new car, a new house, a new gadget and new clothes because we believe that such things will provide lasting contentment.
We want because we live lives of comparison. We see what others have and we want something better. We see what others become and we want to become something better. We are in a constant pace to keep up with and even outdo our neighbors.
We also want because the illusion of comfort convinces us that we will be happier with more stuff, with a new job, with a new car and many other things we desire. We want possessions and prestige because we have the false impression that these will take away the pains and disappointments we experience in life. Yet unhealthy wanting only leads to lust, jealousy, anger, resentment, failure and sadly, a life that never finds contentment.
So what is the secret of contentment? How can we live lives free of anxiety and filled with satisfaction? How can we overcome the desire to want? We find the answer in the model of living that Jesus gave to us. Never wanting or desiring that which was not given by God, Jesus, though continually living in the shadow of death, found contentment in his relationship with God and others.
Three primary characteristics of Jesus’ life demonstrate this very idea.
First, Jesus found contentment through living in God’s presence. He was in constant communion with God, being led by God’s Spirit to do the will of God. Through living in the presence of God, Jesus found satisfaction and peace. The famous Psalm 23 captures the essence of what Jesus knew to be true: living in God’s presence and looking to God for the needs and blessings of life leads to a life of peace and contentment.
Second, Jesus found contentment by living in God’s present. We are always looking past today to tomorrow, and we rush through life without appreciating the present that God has given to us. Jesus’ life, however, reflected his command, “Do not worry about tomorrow.” He embraced the present time that God had given him as an opportunity to embrace the will of God for him. In this he found peace.
The psalmist of Psalm 118 reminds us that each day is “the day that the Lord has made” and we should “rejoice and be glad in it.” Instead of rushing through our lives of stress and strain, hoping that each day will be better than the previous one, we ought to live in the present that God has given us, finding God’s grace for today even if our circumstances are painful.
Lastly, Jesus found contentment in relationships with others. Though spending much time alone in communion with God, Jesus was not insular. Indeed, we might say that his time alone with God resulted in his intentional act of creating relationships with others. In those relationships, though sometimes disappointing, Jesus found friendship, community and contentment.
To find peace and contentment, we must cherish our fellowship with others, whether they are family, friends or even strangers. We must reject our relationships with things and embrace the people God leads in our lives. The greatest gift we have is not the things, the possessions, the prestige or the popularity we find in life. The greatest gifts we have in life are the relationships God has given us. Instead of replacing these relationships with busyness, superficiality and isolation, we should ensure that we give priority to building loving relationships with the people God has placed in our lives.
We will never find contentment in the things of this world that rust and decay. Nor will we experience peace through the things of this world that bring fleeting pleasure. True contentment is experienced through living in the presence of God, the present God has given us, and with the people God has led into our lives, even as we live in a world that is so discontented.
Assistant Director of the Honors College at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.