Lessons on Learning Contentment
This happens to me more often than not.
Whenever invited to lead a Bible study, teach a Sunday school class or speak at a retreat or conference, the person who most needs the lesson is me.
This time it was Helina, asking if I could teach our Discoveryland Sunday school class the first two Sundays this month. Thirty plus kids ranging from first to fifth grade. Different levels of reading comprehension, attention span and interest.
The theme: contentment.
The verses: Philippians 4:11-12a
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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.” (New International Version)
So twirling around my little mind lately are thoughts about contentment.
The first week we watched my all time favorite Veggie Tale DVD “Madame Blueberry.” The lesson/song that summed things up (sing with me): “…because a thankful heart is a happy heart, I’m glad for what I have, it’s an easy way to start.”
Gratitude. A key ingredient in learning contentment. This fit perfectly with a book I read this spring, “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. We brainstormed and listed out things we were thankful for. Filled out an acrostic CONTENTMENT, each letter representing something we were grateful for. One girl wrote O-ostriches. I think that one girl was my daughter. A promise for candy for the return of a filled out list and more candy if the verse was committed to memory.
While preparing for week two, I read and reread the lesson plan and something seemed to go missing. The definition for contentment according to the curriculum read, “deciding to be happy with what you’ve got.” Surely there was more to contentment than a choice or decision to be happy. “Happy” evoked in me my disdain for Orange County, Southern California entitlement living. It reminded me of Pollyanna and her “glass half full” optimism. What made us different from a YMCA kids club or a summer camp teaching positive thinking? How did the Bible relate to their lives? With so many wrongs in this world, how did this truth fit without settling or going limp and passive. “Bummer those villages don’t have water, but they can be thankful for the sun.”
So I had each kid open the Bible, the very Word of God, thumb through the pages and find the book of Philippians. I wanted them to see and read for themselves these verses and find the big four and the little eleven. I wanted them to read from the source, not off a worksheet or a white board.
I had them do a mini Bible study: Observation, interpretation, application. They enthusiastically called out repeated words. I wanted them to read deeper than just skimming over the familiar, “Yeah, yeah, I read that before.” Such a danger for kids who grow up going to church.
I shared some definitions of the repeated words content and learned:
content: satisfied, satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed, literally contained. Resources are within the person so that he does not have to depend on substitutes without
learned: learn by experience, not just hearing, but have learned is an entrance into a new condition, involves a spiritual sense of surrender.
Then I shared from our lives:
Last week the power went out during the heat wave. Too many people trying to cool themselves and what resulted was several electrical grids across southern California frying out. We had to use candles and flashlights. I kept forgetting and repeatedly flipped the switches when I walked into the dark rooms.
Several months ago our air conditioner stopped working. We had a few weeks of hot weather (including when the power went out) without air conditioning. My amazing husband fixed the air conditioner and we are grateful.
Sometimes we learn contentment through having something we take for granted no longer available. Our family appreciates electricity and air conditioning in an experiential way, not just in theory.
I shared about how my daughter, Julia, has taught me about God through her challenges with having food allergies. I admire the character that formed in her life through this ongoing trial. She struggles at times, but I see that the hardship has helped her be stronger and more compassionate toward others.
I looked around the room and into their eyes and said,
“Each of you will go through different challenges, trials, circumstances in your life. You will have both times of being in need and having plenty. Some of you will struggle with your health, or you might walk through the death of someone close to you. Some of you will go through divorce or unemployment. We don’t know what those trials will be. The hard things you go through God can use as bridges into other people’s lives. Content does not mean settling. God has gifted you, prepared good works beforehand for you to walk in, be part of righting the wrongs.”
Good Bible study involves reading verses in context. And verse right after their memory verse held the key:
I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)
This is what separated us from the YMCA and kids camps. It centers on Jesus. Our circumstances will fluctuate throughout our lifetime. He remains unchanging, steadfast and true. Leaning into Him, relying on Him, trusting Him, walking with Him requires KNOWING Him.
So, day by day, through the ups and downs, I can learn contentment through a heart surrendered to the One who loves me most. Connection, gratitude, perspective, His presence, His Word, mold and shape my heart to rest in Him. To rest in contentment.