Contentment is one of those difficult words to deal with. When is enough, enough? When can we just be happy with what we have, and enjoy the lives we’ve been given? Why is it that we always seem to grasp for more?
When we hear this conversation in our culture, our minds immediately move toward materialism. Coming off of the Christmas holiday season, when we frantically search for the perfect gifts, and then are reminded by stores on December 26th to go buy the things we actually wanted but didn’t receive, it’s easy to think our culture has a problem with materialism and contentment. When one hears of contentment one immediately begins the process of inner searching and wondering. One then either dismisses the claims, or begins to feel guilty about every purchase that is made. While it is true that our culture struggles with materialism, focusing on materialism may blind us to an even bigger problem. Part of the problem with sin is a lack of contentment.
Consider the story of the Fall recorded in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are living in a beautiful Garden and have been given all of God’s blessings to enjoy. They, out of all of creation, have been given the special task to serve as God’s representatives; becoming God’s caretakers of the world. All of their needs are being met, and they enjoy a fellowship with God that many of us can only dream of having. Yet for some reason, that wasn’t enough, or at least the serpent convinced them it wasn’t enough. The serpent tempts them with more. The serpent tells Eve that if she eats from the tree she won’t die, instead “the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5 The Message) Eve hears the news and she begins to wonder. The temptation to acquire more, to be just like God, becomes too strong. She and Adam are no longer content with the role they’ve been given; they want more. “When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. Immediately the two of them did ‘see what’s really going on’—saw themselves naked!” (Genesis 3:6-7 The Message) This becomes a chilling reminder of what happens when we want more. Shame enters the story. Adam and Eve gained a new perspective, they knew more than they did before, however, it wasn’t the perspective they wanted. When eating from the tree they recognized their own inadequacies, but it was too late. No longer could they think of themselves the same, but there was no going back. They sewed fig leaves together to hide their nakedness, to hide themselves, to hide from God, but it was a failed attempt. Paradise was now lost.
That’s one of the problems with sin, it’s a desire to acquire more because what we have is not enough. We cheat on our taxes because we want more. We ridicule others because we want attention and notoriety, at least more than we have now. Spouses commit adultery because the spouse they are married to is not enough, they want something more. On and on the cycle goes, humans committing sins because we always want more. We want to be in charge. We want to be in control. We want to know everything, and be just like God.
Perhaps the way to curb our sin problem is to begin practicing disciplines that lead to contentment. No one learns to be content by waking up one day and deciding to be content. Instead, one intentionally practices disciplines that train the heart and mind, and transform the will to be able to say no to the desires that want to control us. Fasting, learning to say no to food for a specific amount of time teaches us self-control so that we can say no to other desires we may have. The practice of giving something away teaches us to be generous and to not always need more things. Silence and solitude help us recognize that our self worth and purpose don’t come from others recognition, instead all we need is found in God’s presence. Through the disciplines, we open ourselves up to God’s transforming power in our lives.
Like Adam and Eve, we have this strange tendency to desire more. We fail to recognize that God has given us all we need, and we seek satisfaction in another. As we learn contentment, we will learn that we don’t need more, we just need God. When we recognize our satisfaction in God, there is no need to sin, because God is all we need.