The Least of These

“At least you’re not:

  • sick
  • poor
  • tortured
  • childless/saddled with children
  • homeless/burdened with house payments
  • divorced/married
  • ugly
  • as bad off as so-and-so
  • unemployed
  • in a concentration camp…”

Ever hear any of these? Why is it these well-meant attempts at drumming up contentment are so unhelpful — irritating even? Is it because they fail to recognize the very real difficulty you may have just expressed? Do they minimize or deny your suffering?

We’ve all heard ’em. We may have spoken ’em to others. Sometimes we even use these messages on ourselves. But do they work? Does anyone ever become content with their lot in life that way?

Christian contentment, by definition, implies and understands that conditions are unsatisfactory. While it may seem perfectly reasonable to us that a toddler be content with just one of the toys rather than the whole boxful, it’s an entirely different matter if I were to be told I should be glad I have six of my seven children still living. (This is for the sake of illustration only. No one has ever been so insensitive as to say or even imply such a thing.) But you see, don’t you, how the two examples are the same at root. Both sufferers have had their expectations dashed. It’s only a matter of degree. To both the bereft toddler and the bereaved parent, the injustice and loss they suffer is equally real and no amount of external admonishing can erase it.

This is why Jeremiah Burroughs says, “The contentment of a man or woman who is rightly content does not come so much from outward arguments or from any outward help as from the disposition of their own hearts.”

It’s like the difference between the lovely warmed blanket they brought me after I’d given birth, and putting on a wet shirt which will soon be dried and warmed by my body heat. One is an external source of heat while the other is internal.

It’s not external persuasion that brings us to contentment, no matter how true and sensible it may be.

Neither is contentment just natural to some people, nor “merely one act, just a flash in a good mood.” Everyone is content when they’re in a good mood, and the good mood is usually a result of a sense that everything’s going their way. Contentment is not just for those whose personality leans that way.

A friend once marveled how our mutual friend Shirley could be alright with living in an old 1,000 sq. ft. house with nine children. “I could never handle that,” she said. As though Shirley’s temperament were somehow suited to that particular trial while my friend’s was not. I’ve actually found it to be the opposite. God gives us trials that are designed to hone in us the character he wants to see formed. “It is good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

So we don’t become content by external persuasion. And a calm temperament is not genuine contentment. Rather, contentment must come from something within us — a “heart transplant” that only God can perform. And when He does — wow! There’s no “at least” about it. Instead we get the most. 

We get the presence of God himself in our lives. We get the confidence that He will bring good out of what seems evil to us. And we get the assured hope that all our suffering will end in peace and pleasure.

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”  (Psalm 16:11)

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