Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving and Contentment

"give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." Proverbs 30:8  

What a counter-cultural statement. It doesn't sound very aspiring, does it? It doesn't paint a picture of someone climbing the ladder of success, and it doesn't exactly seem like someone who thinks they will be financially blessed by God because they're faith is stronger than the next guy. It doesn't sound like someone who has read the latest Christian self-help book. And it doesn't exactly sound very American., or very "Christian" for that matter.    
Contentment is a bad word during this time of year. I mean, isn't that the antithesis of what Christmas marketing is all about? Isn't that the complete opposite of the real motive of gift giving? It's not really about what "they" want, it's about what "we" can get, right? Let's face it. That's the essential motive of all Christmas advertising. Companies rely on the restless discontented spirit of Americans and hone in on that one question that we all ask ourselves, "What do I WANT?"

Every year, it seems earlier and earlier that stores begin packing their aisles with festive Christmas advertising, displays and Christmas themed products. This year it was well before Halloween, which makes me sometimes wonder if we're gradually moving toward one single "Winter Holiday Season”, rather than three individual celebrations. Thanksgiving is basically rolled over by the Christmas steam engine. Kids find it boring and stores find it to be just an unprofitable pain in the ass. Just a low profit holiday stuck between the big money profits of Halloween and Christmas. A Speed bump.

When I was in college, my parents gave me an inspirational picture for Christmas that I eventually hung in my first office. The peaceful image was of a golden sunset silhouetted by a man in a kayak rowing across a calm glassy lake. Beneath the picture was the title Contentment, followed by a small caption that read, “When you can look at the past with pride and the future with hope, you can live comfortably with today”. It wasn't until many years later that I realized how true and essential these words really are.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul says, “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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” - Philippians 4:11-13 

From these words, we see that Paul understood that we have no real control over the past or the future. The only period of time that we can physically live within is the present moment,.and our present situations in life can only be made peaceful through a complete centered focus on God, not on possessions. The secret of contentment of which Paul speaks, lies in the last verse. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” In 1 Timothy 6:6-8, he reaffirms his understanding and again links the secret of contentment to an all encompassing focus on God. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” He then goes on to show us that our physical possessions have absolutely nothing to do with our contentment. For we brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” And doesn't this seem to be the essence of what being thankful is all about? It's no wonder that advertisers don't want to focus on Thanksgiving. We just might grasp it's essential meaning and not spend as much because we realize that we're content with what we have.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let's commit to actually being thankful; not just saying that we're thankful, but honestly and spiritually giving thanks. Put your Christmas plans on pause. Take a break. In light of recent terror attacks and threats of the beginnings of WWIII, it's not difficult to realize that we have much more to be thankful for than we may realize. If you have life, have a roof over your head and a community of family and friends surrounding you, you have enough to be content. And if circumstances beyond your control have left you alone today, get in touch with me. You have a place around the table!

Celebrate Thanksgiving. Take some time to meditate on what it means to be thankful. Let us remember that contentment doesn't lie in the endless accumulation of possessions. Contentment lies in being "thankful" for what we have been given each and every day; whether good or bad; whether a lot or just a little. Contentment is being in the now; not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Contentment is real-time. A continuous thankful spirit for each moment. Breathing in and out. Life. Now. Contentment.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16)