The Quest for Contentment

We all want to be content. But how can we actually get there?

My friend Scott had it made. After four years of college and three years at a prestigious law school, he landed a position at a high- powered international law firm in Chicago. I wasn’t surprised. Smart, funny, talented—if anybody could write his own ticket in life, it was Scott.

I saw him again at our 10-year high school reunion. We introduced our wives, and I asked him how things were going at the big-league law firm.

“I hate it,” he said. “No, seriously, I hate it. I’m gonna quit in a few months, but I haven’t told anyone yet.” He was visibly uncomfortable, so he changed the subject.

We ran into each other again over Christmas at a local movie theater. Because that’s what guys do, I asked him the question again: “How’s work?”

He smiled, relief all over his face. “I quit.” “Just like that?” “Just like that.” Scott had achieved the American dream—a smart kid making it to a high-status, high-paying career. Prestigious job, fascinating city, beautiful wife. But he wasn’t happy. He hated the stress, hated the hours and hated the fact that, after the first few weeks, the work didn’t interest him. At all.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. According to the futurists who spent the ’60s and ’70s telling us what life was going to be like in the year 2000, technology would have made everything much easier by now. Productivity would boom, work would get done faster, and our lives would be filled with more of the good stuff. But over the past three decades, the number of hours we work each week has steadily risen, futurists be damned. Why do we work so much? Because we can.

The futurists, in thinking that external technology would make life simpler, ignored the internal reality of humanity: We’re notoriously hard to satisfy. We’re always chasing fulfillment, but never seem to reach it. We work more hours to make more money. We make more money to buy more stuff. We buy more stuff to make our leisure time more enjoyable. Then we sacrifice that free time in order to work more. How much is enough?

Your work

The most cluttered and stressful areas of our lives are most often work-related, so the first step toward simplicity is fairly straightforward: Find a way to get paid to do something you love.

Embracing simplicity means redefining success. It has nothing to do with a paycheck or position, and everything to do with whether you like what you’re doing. A simplified life is, without fail, a satisfied life. And when work—which consumes half of our waking hours, and usually more—is unfulfilling, then our non-working lives will suffer. Thomas Aquinas said it best, declaring, “There can be no joy of life without joy of work.”

All of us know plenty of people who dislike their work, but very few who have actually taken the dramatic step Scott took in order to do something about it. The reason for this is very simple. We get tethered to an unfulfilling job because of the economic stability it gives us. Good benefits. A good salary. We need our jobs because they support our spending habits. And as much as we’d like to simplify our working life by finding something we enjoy, it’s not an option until we simplify our non-working lives.

Your lifestyle

Which leads us to step two: Get control of the amount of money you spend. We work because we have to. We land a decent job with decent pay and we raise our standard of living to that “decent” level. Then, once the bills hit the mailbox, we find that we will never be able to accept a job with fewer hours—and thus, lower pay—because our lifestyle demands a certain income. In most cases, we’re living in a hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

“There is no secret rocket science to understanding the relationship between money and a simple life,” wrote Janet Luhrs in The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living. “Here is the rule: If you don’t want to work too much, don’t spend the money.”

Your focus

There are plenty of simplicity advocates who could care less what the Bible says about the topic. But don’t think for a second this is a purely secular issue; Jesus talked about money and economics more than any other social concern. He told the rich young ruler that getting rid of his things was the first step in a life of obedience (Matthew 19). He told a parable about a rich farmer who put a huge yield of grain into storage—a seemingly wise move, but Jesus pegged him a fool (Luke 12). He spoke blessings on the poor and woes on the wealthy, and famously said it would be a challenge for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Richard Foster, whose Celebration of Discipline remains one of the most influential modern works on Christian spirituality, put it this way: “If, in a comparatively simple society, our Lord lays such strong emphasis upon the spiritual dangers of wealth, how much more should we who live in a highly affluent culture take seriously the economic question.”

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You can’t simplify your outsides until you first simplify your insides. For a Christian, Foster wrote, the discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. What is that inward reality? It’s a renewed focus. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

Here in the United States, we move at such a hectic pace that we wear stress like a badge of honor. We make the same purchases as everyone else in order to get people’s attention. We follow the well-worn paths to success and let society tell us whether or not we’ve arrived. Simplicity, on the other hand, is about living intelligently, deliberately and doing it on our own terms—or rather, on Someone Else’s terms. Someone who’s worth impressing. Someone much more significant than the Joneses.

Jason Boyett is a blogger and an author, most recently of O Me of Little Faith (Zondervan). This article originally appeared in RELEVANT.




Lauren commented…

Thanks for a much needed reminder.



Holmlundmp commented…

There is a fine line between desiring contentment for ourselves, or for God.

The humanist says what can make me happy, the Christian says what can make God happy.

But to be honest I have yet to read the article, it's just always something to consider - God, instead of ourselves. But again, it is a fine line, we need to look after ourselves and we need to be focused on the glory of God.

"Ten sheckles and a shirt" by Paris Reidhead has always been at the back of my head whenever someone or the idea of improving your life or being more happy. Turning God into a means and not the end. Happiness is a by-product not a prime-product. Our desire, motivation, and strength should come from the wanting of seeing Christ glorified.

But again, I haven't read the article, I'm not saying anything bad against what is said, because I don't know what the content is. What sparked this comment was the title - "The Quest for contentment". Who is the main subject in that line? Me. Not Jesus.

Relevant is sweet btw.


cindyg commented…

Holmlundmp... You are so right. It grieves me to see fellow believers with the attitude that somehow, our faith is a life-improvement program, and anything that annoys us must not be God's will. How very short-sighted and selfish. All it takes, is to have a solid walk with the Lord, faithfully into the Word and prayer, and at least some grasp of Church history. Those who paved the way for us to have what we do now, usually suffered greatly for it; many of them NEVER "got what they wanted", nor even lived to see the fruit of what they had worked and suffered for. Forty years with Christ myself, has shown me how fickle even believers can be. The first sign of things awry at church, and they're bailing.. looking for the church or their dreams where the goosebumps are fresh: church-hopping "cruisamatics". Or, a job that "makes them happy". I wonder how many of them it ever occurs to, that maybe God took them there to BE part of the solution. If it was perfect, 1) they wouldn't be needed or 2) it wouldn't be, after they got there! We must grow up in the things of God and see where HE wants us. He may lead us to leave - as He did, our last church after 18 yrs, and on the receiving end of a fair amount of goofy, mega- church politics. When you've done all you can do, and stayed to be part of the solution but it's only hurting you, making you ill, and your efforts are not helping, it may be time to move on. I pray the Body of Christ simply grows up and lets GOD make their choices... and then submits to that. THEN we will have all the joy we can stand, no matter what our circumstances or situation!


a boy and his God commented…

Gary Haugen (founder of International Justice Mission). but he's a pretty busy guy.


thebrianrice commented…

its amazing how we all need that balance! I find working less, and letting God fill in the gaps works out pretty well. I don't need all the toys either.

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