Another topic I’ll be blogging on quite a bit in the coming months is Contentment – how to find it while living in a world of plenty and a culture of more. Here’s the opening thoughts…
Contentment is a battle for me. Sometimes a daily battle. I have to choose to see the good in my life every day. Not because my life is void of good things or reasons to be content. Quite the contrary! It is possibly so full of good that it constantly feels too good to be true.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not wealthy by any North American standards. We are a one-income family raising two boys in Northern Ontario. My husband is a minister, and I am a writer. We have a couple of side jobs that bring in extra money as well.
We have a used car. Retirement savings were not on our radar much until we recently hit our 40th birthdays. Our boys have pretty good education savings and we hope they will start their adult lives debt-free. We vacation by spending time with family or using Aeroplan miles for free flights. We also love to go camping or help out at children’s summer camps. A friend offers us their cottage for free once a year as well.
There are no expensive habits or hobbies in our lives. Our boys play on local sports teams and spend lots of time at the outdoor skating rinks, skate parks, and public beaches in our area.
That’s our financial situation in a nutshell. Josh and I were able to pay for undergraduate degrees for both of us and a graduate degree for Josh. We carry car loans below 1% financing for no more than one year. Our boys have been on two big trips – Disney and an all-inclusive resort in Dominican Republic.
The average middle-class dream, right? Except there was always the nagging sense that I was missing something. Something big, important, crucial even. It was that first mission trip in April 2011, that first visit to the back village in Dominican Republic – that’s when I found what I was looking for. I wouldn’t recognize it for quite a while still, but eventually it would spill over into every part of my life – it was contentment.
It looked nothing like what my culture had told me it would look like. Two cars, two kids, two houses (a city house and a cottage), two jobs, 3 meals, annual vacations, retirement and education savings, nice clothes, even health and education were not on the “real” list of requirements for contentment.
I found contentment in a face I’ll never forget. She was a mother of seven, she had very few teeth, her clothes were torn and hanging loosely on her bone-thin frame. It was the sparkle in her eye that drew me to her as she welcomed me into her one-room cement home. Two dusty, dilapidated couches sat in the room, along with an old table and chairs. There was a curtain hanging in the corner to block off the sleeping area, and tattered posters lined the walls. There was no electricity or plumbing, and no windows in the house. Yet the smile on her face made me feel so welcome and at home. I could have stayed a long while with her in that place. She was happy, and her happiness shook my world to the core right then and there. I have never been the same since.
Contentment continues to look much different in my life than what would be considered “normal” for a North American woman. I feel it most when I share freely of my time, energy, and resources. Or when I educate other on the issues of global poverty and encourage them to make a difference. I especially love to equip the next generation to shape the world a little different as they grow. They are the future and they hold the hope of change. Contentment is with me as I care for a sick child of mine, or donate to the local food bank, or become more aware of the poverty issues in my region, or step into a stranger’s home in Dominican Republic.
The act of reaching out beyond my own life, of caring for my neighbours near and far – this is contentment for me. I figure the only way to be truly happy in all the often-unappreciated blessings of my life is to share them with those who lack them. I am blessed so that I can bless others. It’s simple, really. I am free to enjoy all the gifts I’ve been given – freedom, health, education, a family of my own, warm housing, clothes, nutritious food, clean water, and so much more. But I can only be truly content with them if I steer away from consumerism and materialism, and share the excess with others.
It’s the giving away of more that feels the best, not the taking in of more. Our culture would tell us the opposite. I have come to embrace a counter-cultural mindset, though it still, always, a daily choice to see the good. The good of living in a world of plenty is recognizing the plenty for what it truly is, knowing its purpose in my life…
I can give freely because I have been given freely.
This blog series will take you on a journey with me – from discontentment to contentment, from holding on tightly to giving away freely, from a culture of “more is happiness” to a counter-culture of “less is more”.
Blessings on the journey!