1 Timothy 6:6-12 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
What do you want for Christmas? How do we know what we want? I loved that my daughter’s best friend was once asked, when she was 7 or 8, what she wanted for her birthday. She looked at her mom quizzically and asked, “What sorts of things are there?” How do we know what to want?
For starters, it is the insidiousness of advertising. It’s job is to create discontent. We are the prey and advertising is the predator. Yet we knowingly subject our children to it. But we can’t blame that entirely. Discontent came right after the fall of man, right of the heels of the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, killed his brother, Abel, because he was jealous and unhappy, right there in Genesis.
In our consumer culture, we settle for a level of “contentment” unheard of in most of history. Read through the New Testament. Countless examples of sacrificial giving, giving until it hurts, marks the church and characterizes Christians.
What should we base our contentment on? How we feel? What is our standard? Our friends? What we see on our screens? Whether on or we are having a good year? A good day? Author Rob Kuban in Redefining Riches talks about contentment based on conviction:
“The Bible calls us to allow our convictions, not our circumstances, to govern our sense of contentment. True, biblical contentment is a conviction that Christ’s power, purpose and provision is sufficient for every circumstance. We are to learn how to walk through all kinds of adversity believing in and experiencing Christ’s sufficiency. We have to choose to rest on God’s good promises despite what may be going on in our lives.”
Another question to ask ourselves is: What void are you trying to fill? My daughter is a freshman in college and she called the other night, right after we had put on a movie and were cuddled up with my middle daughter. I took the call and my husband was adamant that I hang up and go back to the movie. It was aggravating. I don’t like being told what to do. But I didn’t want to shortchange my second daughter because this was important to here, even though it was Mr. Bean. Guess what? My oldest figured it out on her own and was more confident for it.
Did I needed to be needed by my adult daughter? Probably so. Most of us would admit that we are better people for the adversities we have faced in our lives. Poverty? Emigrant family? Hard work? Learning difficulties? What have we learned through overcoming each of these? Then why are we loathe to let our children go through some growing pains? We are we so afraid of saying “no”?
I love this perspective in False Happiness and Human Flourishing: Part Two by Monte Knetter:
“It is true that technology has provided us with the means to great health and comfort, speed of travel and unquantifiable amounts of information, but as a result we have come to believe that we can so arrange the world as to have all things at all times on our terms. We have deceived ourselves into thinking that we can simultaneously have freedom and commitment, radical individuality and community. After all, if we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we square the circles of man’s paradoxical desires? Added to this, we live much of our lives in unreality, passively observing the scripted experiences and relationships of others in films, television shows, and on various social media outlets. They move from happiness to happiness; why can’t we? They are capable of pursuing seemingly incompatible goods; why can’t we?”
Contentment must be cultivated in our hearts and our children’s hearts, just like all other virtues. We practice it. Do we sign up for activities because of friends do, because we are afraid we might miss the next phenom or virtuoso. Or do we buy them things because we are afraid they will miss out? Do we run ourselves ragged and teach our kids that happiness is based on the right activities, the right friends, the right home furnishings?
I am not knocking your efforts at building a lovely home for your family to congregate in. But if no one is ever home to enjoy it, what did your efforts to keep up with Better Homes or the Pottery Barn catalog get you? If your family is seeking happiness in pursuit of pleasure, entertainment, fame, money, achievement, what did you create?
I am challenging you to a new sort of Christmas season – one where we allow our convictions, not our circumstances, to govern our sense of contentment. What does that look like? Make this Christmas one where we define gifts by what we give, rather than what we get. Memorize as a family, “Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has.” Luke 12:15
It is okay to want something for Christmas. But help each child focus on a fun Christmas list of things they are making and giving. Delivering pumpkin bread or cookies, shopping for others, and helping the elderly decorate for Christmas changes our focus.
For our older children we put cash into envelopes and each person in the family chose someone, stranger or friend (anonymously) to bless in the days leading up to Christmas. If you have little ones, you know what a disappointing Christmas morning can be created by an innocuous looking thing like a toy catalog. Toss them in the trash straight from the mailbox.
This Christmas read inspiring stories as a family like Louisa May Alcott’s story “A Christmas Dream and How it Came True”, “Christmas Every Day” by William Dean Howells and “A Candle in the Forest” by Temple Bailey.
If you have tweens and teens, you understand how a modern convenience like a cell phone keeps discontent and fuel for comparison right at our fingertips. We don’t have to shrug our shoulders. We are the parents. Let’s allow our convictions to govern our sense of contentment. Christ’s power, purpose and provision and sufficient for us. Our identity and Christ’s should be so entangled that we can’t see the difference. He is sufficient. Jesus is enough and gives that to us.
Christ’s purpose is sufficient for us. It doesn’t matter what the others look like on their perfect social media pages, what grades other kids get, or how well they behave, Christ’s purpose for your family is enough.
Christ’s provision for us is enough. It doesn’t matter that our friends and neighbors, have more stuff, look like they have more fun, go more places than we do. Christ’s power is enough so we need not fear.
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