Charles Naylor, 1930
Contentment is one of life's greatest blessings. But contentment is not something that can be sent down, nicely wrapped up like a Christmas gift from Heaven. It is a state of mind and heart. It is not dependent upon our situation or our circumstances. Many people are contented and happy in circumstances — where others would be thoroughly discontented. Some people are discontented under the most favorable circumstances. Contentment is a structure we build ourselves. It is a state of mind we develop. It is an attitude toward things which comes to us through careful cultivation. It is something which lives inside us — not something that circumstances and conditions create.
If happiness has not its seat and center in the heart — we may be wise, or rich or great — but never can be blessed.
Contentment is sometimes spoken of as a lazy virtue. Perhaps that is because some people are content with things with which they ought not to be content. We should never be satisfied to permit things to exist, which ought not to exist. We should never be satisfied to be less than our best. There are wrongs which need righting. There are conditions which need improving. There is progress which needs to be made. A sort of contentment that can view these things with indifference, ignore responsibility, evade duty — should be called by an entirely different name. When we have done our duty, met our responsibility, corrected those things that need correction so far as is possible for us — then we may have real contentment. Contentment does not mean surrender to conditions. It does mean being satisfied in the circumstances and conditions which exist, for which we are not responsible.
Contentment is a lesson to be learned. Paul said, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:11). He goes on to tell some of the things he has learned. "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." (verses 12, 13).
Paul had learned a great secret. It was the secret of adapting himself to conditions, and being at rest in those conditions. He could enjoy to the full, the things that afforded him enjoyment. He could suffer patiently, the things that came upon him to suffer. But whether rejoicing or suffering — he had that inner contentment of spirit — the calmness and peace of which enriched his soul and made quite tolerable a life that otherwise would have been intolerable.
We, too, need to learn the lesson of contentment. The command to Christians is, "Be content with such things as you have" (Hebrews 13:5). Speaking further upon this subject Paul says, "Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out. Having food and clothing, let us be therewith content."
A godly life is productive of contentment — but there are many Christians who at least in some respects are discontented. This discontent produces a constant urge to rebel against things.
It is a singular fact that many of the most contented people are those who live in poverty. In fact, the working people are the most contented of all people. Those who live on the common levels of life, are the truly happy — provided they have the attitude of contentment.
There are many things people desire which can never give them contentment. One man says, "If I had a million dollars — I would be contented." Another thinks if he had political preferment — that would satisfy his ambition and he would be content. Another has another thing to attain to make him content. These things when attained — do not bring contentment.
As already pointed out contentment is a lesson learned, a state of the heart, an attitude toward things.
Riches do not bring contentment. Andrew Carnegie, known to all for his wealth and a man who should have known what he was talking about, said, "Beyond a competence for old age, and that may be very small — wealth lessens rather than increases human happiness. Millionaires who laugh are rare!" Many of us would do well to pause here and carefully study this saying of a wise and prudent Scotchman.
Jesus told his disciples not to be anxious about food and clothing and such things and added, "After all these things, the Gentiles seek" (Matthew 6:32). Possession of worldly things, is a goal set before them by the unsaved. The question asked about a man often is, "How much money does he have?" His supposed happiness is usually rated by the size of his bank account. No greater error in the choice of a standard for measurement of happiness, could be made. The command of the Scriptures is, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." We should put first things first. If we do this — then our needs will be few, and our desires not much greater.
The basis of contentment is simplicity of desire. One of the things that is ruining more happiness than anything else, is the desire to excel others. "We must keep up with the Jones," is an attitude of mind fatal to contentment. It has caused more heartaches, destroyed more happiness, ruined more homes, produced more divorces, perhaps than any other one thing! This strife to excel, often leads people into sin.
The wife would outstrip her neighbors, so she makes large demands upon her husband for money. Thus pressed, he sometimes adopts business methods that are highly improper. In many cases it has led to shame and disgrace. In any event, it leads to unhappiness for both husband and wife and for the whole family. Through envy, jealousy of others, and coveting what they don't have — many people have been brought to bitterness of soul and utterly to hate life. Better contentment in a cottage — than discontent in a mansion!
Very often prosperity in temporal things destroys the happiness which has already existed in a less prosperous condition.
Years ago in one of our northern States, a man engaged in the lumbering business in a small way, built a cozy cottage on the shore of a bay into which he brought his bride. They both worked, he in his sawmill, and she in her cottage — and were both happy. The years passed. He prospered in business and became rich. Then he built a fine mansion in the city and moved into it. After living there for some time and mingling with the society into which his riches gave them entrance — in speaking to a friend one day he said, "We are not as happy as we were in our little cottage on the bay."
A few months ago I heard Charles M. Schwab make an address over the radio. In that address he told of his big house in New York City and of another great house which he owned in the country. He said, "I don't own them. They own me. The only satisfaction I have in them, is that I have enough money in the bank to pay the taxes on them." He has to look to other sources rather than to his possessions, for contentment and happiness.
Contentment is not built of gold or of precious gems. It is not constructed of honors or fame or the applause of the multitude. It does not come from out shining others. These may bring a sort of satisfaction — but not contentment. Contentment belongs to the meek and lowly in spirit. Pride is destructive to it. Arrogance annihilates it. Covetousness curses it. Hatred poisons it. Malice thrusts a sword through it. Contentment can thrive only with the Christian virtues. Faith, hope, and charity abide with it. Peace broods over its domicile. Blessed forevermore is he who has a contented spirit.
So many nourish discontent. They are all the time looking at the things they do not possess — and coveting them. They are always reaching out, stretching themselves to gain something which they cannot attain. They find fault with the things they possess — instead of enjoying them. They minimize the simple good in things. They see all the faults and failures. They often feel that their rights are being trespassed upon. There is a frown in their hearts — and a frown upon their faces.
Who is to blame for all this? The individual himself! He has adopted a wrong attitude of mind and heart. He is facing the wrong way. He has the wrong standard. He cannot be happy. He needs to turn about, face the other way, adopt a different attitude, look at things from a different angle, and set different standards for himself. He needs to learn the secret of the simple life — simple desires, temperate aspirations, bridled ambitions.
In the valley of contentment — is calmness, sweetness of spirit, and rest of soul. Through it flow the peaceable waters of quietness. In this valley, the song-birds joyfully sing. The heart mounts up to God in praise. In it lies the spring of joy which bubbles up in gladsome song.
The valley of contentment is not a place of inactivity. When we have learned to be content with such things as we have, and in our situation in life and in our circumstances — that does not mean that we lose all aspirations or that all effort ceases. By no means. To be content with today, does not mean to be content with the same thing tomorrow. The right sort of contentment demands continual progress in the lines in which progress is possible. In fact, we cannot be contented not to make proper progress. In the valley of contentment, we are not to sit down idly dreaming away our days. On the contrary — there is a path which runs through this valley, and we are to walk in this path, ever forward, ever upward.
If we would be truly happy, if we would sing the songs of the joyous life — then we must learn the lesson of contentment. We must learn what desires to gratify — and what desires to repress. We must learn what things can bring contentment — and what things destroy it. We must avoid the latter, while we seek the former. We must cultivate our hearts. We must trust in God. Then and only then, shall we have that source of contentment and happiness within, which inspires us to sing the song of glad rejoicing!