The Secret to Contentment
“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”. — Philippians 4:11
I brought an egg with me to church today. This egg came from a chicken, and like other birds and many other animals, they lay eggs.
Fun fact: did you know that the duckbill platypus and the spiny anteater are the only two mammals that lay eggs? All other mammals give birth to live young.
I learned a lot about platypuses when I was in Boy Scouts because I was in the platypus patrol!
But back to chicken eggs. I love eggs, because they are so versatile and handy to have in the kitchen. You can eat them by themselves fried, scrambled, hardboiled or poached.
You can make all kinds of omelettes with them, breakfast tacos (a favorite when I lived in San Antonio) or when we lived in the Midwest, we ate a lot of egg salad and potato salad. You also need eggs to make pancakes and crepes and all kinds of baked goods.
To top it off, eggs a very healthy food to eat, considered a complete protein.
Basically, when it comes to food, if I have eggs in my refrigerator, I am content. I’m satisfied, because I am able to make all kinds of foods that I love. To me, eggs are one of the secrets to contentment in the kitchen.
Today, I want to talk about how we can be content in life outside of the kitchen. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that it’s often easy to feel content, satisfied and happy when everything is going well in my life.
But when life gets tough, contentment becomes elusive and fleeting, like trying to catch a chicken in a barnyard.
Right now we are all going through a very tough time– in our nation, and really in our world. And it’s a time that really is challenging to be content in.
We have been afflicted by a pandemic that has disrupted so much of life going on 7 months now, with no end in sight.
The pandemic has led to an economic crisis that has caused so many people to lose their jobs and suffer financial hardship.
The pandemic has also made it incredibly challenging for teachers and students of all ages, as well as for parents who have been thrust into the role of helping their children with their schoolwork and with figuring out how to do it remotely instead of in person.
2020 will go down in history books as a year like no other that we have ever experienced. If there was ever a time to not be content, it’s now.
If there was ever a time to complain, it’s now. If there was ever a time to be restless, it’s now.
If there ever was a time to deal with anxiety, and stress about all the unknowns and uncertainties, it’s now.
So what is the secret to being content, both in the good times as well as the bad times in life? To attempt to answer this question, I think that one of the best people to learn from is the Apostle Paul.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippian church, he was in prison, probably in Rome and likely awaiting his execution. So that makes what he writes here in this letter to that church even more incredible.
Because in spite of the stark reality of his present circumstances, Paul declares that he has learned to be content no matter what situation he finds himself in:
Whether he has been brought low, or we could say down in the dumps, or whether he’s riding high in abundance;
whether he’s been well-taken care of and well fed, or whether the cupboard is bare and he’s on the struggle bus.
As I look at Paul’s life and his words both here in Philippians and other places in the New Testament, I see three keys, three words that seem to help unlock this secret of contentment that Paul is referring to.
The first word, the first key is “Enough”. We live in a world where we always seem to want more in order to be content. More money, attention, recognition, accomplishments, friends or followers, more love. We seek after these things thinking that they will satisfy us.
The Rolling Stones song, Satisfaction, was ranked the 2nd greatest song of all time ranked by Billboard magazine—so it must have struck a nerve with people.
Mick Jagger sings, I try, and I try, and I try, but I can’t get no satisfaction. Not when I’m driving in my car, or watching my TV or riding around the world, I just can’t get no satisfaction. He’s saying that there’s nothing that can satisfy him, nothing that can make him content.
If I’m honest, I can relate to what Jagger is singing about. I mean, I love to travel and have new and exciting experiences.
I struggle with this thing called FOMO, that “fear of missing out” on new experiences and any opportunity to get to know people. During these times of quarantining, not being able to travel, and so many things being closed, there are times when my FOMO flares up big time.
I’ll admit that during the summer, I was bummed out that all the museums and so many other things were closed in DC. We had time, and would have loved to explore them, but couldn’t due to COVID. After a while, I got pretty restless about it.
If I’m honest, even when things are more normal, when I’m in my most stressful times, there’s no amount of experiences or connections with people that can make me content—I’m always left wanting more, and that Rolling Stones’ song rings true my mind.
Looking at the life of the apostle Paul really helps me keep things in perspective. Because for Paul, what gave him the most contentment was keeping his focus on Jesus—on pleasing him and serving him with his life.
In chapter 3 of Philippians, Paul says that all his accomplishments, credentials, status as a religious leader, were not what satisfied him, in fact he said he considered it all rubbish, worthless, or as the Message version says “dog dung”–compared to knowing Jesus, for whose sake he had lost everything that used to matter to him.
What made Paul content, in the words of the Message was “embracing Jesus and being embraced by him.” Nothing else could truly satisfy him.
The theologian of the 4th and 5th century, St. Augustine, once said: “You have made us for yourself, O God; and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
Sometimes I find this rest, this contentment, in nature, when I take the time to appreciate all the beauty in it.
The late great novelist Toni Morrison is quoted as saying something that rings true here. She said “At some point in your life the world’s beauty becomes enough.”
Paul could see and experience that beauty, no matter the circumstances, and we can too.
So Pauls’ first key to contentment is Enough. And I would say that the next key word is Gratitude”-
Gratitude is another word for thanksgiving, and Paul starts off this passage encouraging the church in Philippi live with a constant attitude of gratitude, even in situations that were stressful:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (vs. 6) When we do this, he says, we will experience God’s peace, a peace that transcends all understanding, in other words, a peace that in some ways doesn’t make sense but is real and which leads us to being content, whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Becca Wierwille is a former Bluffton University student from Lancaster PA who writes a blog that I subscribe to. Becca was born with only one arm and she always ends her blog post with the line, “remember that you are onederfully (one, not won) created!”
Last November she wrote a post on thanksgiving, reflecting on this verse from Philippians. Becca wrote:
How do we approach moments that normally bring us anxiety and give thanks instead? I don’t think we’ll experience an immediate shift away from anxiety. But I do believe the more we give thanks, the more that becomes our automatic response. Muscle memory. And when thankfulness becomes our automatic response, our perspectives will naturally start to change.
I love this metaphor of exercising our thankfulness muscle, and the more we do it, the stronger it becomes, just like what happens when we exercise the muscles in our bodies.
Paul gives another clue in this passage about how gratitude plays out in our lives. He encourages us to dwell on the things that are good, the positive things in life:
Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, my brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”.
In the midst of all the struggles and conflict that the Philippian church might be going through, Paul encourages them to focus on the positive, to not get swallowed up in negativity or despair.
Of all people, Paul could have allowed all the suffering and challenges he faced to demoralize him and make him wish that he could be anywhere than where he was at the moment, in that cold, dark, prison cell.
But he didn’t let it drag him down, and was able to find peace and contentment in the midst of it all.
There is a time to focus on the tough stuff—face our brokenness, deal with messy situations, get close to the pain in our lives and in our world. Jesus didn’t shy away from it, and we shouldn’t either. We probably have been dwelling on it a lot during the past several months.
But when we focus on what’s true and pure and beautiful in the world and in other people as our default approach to life, it helps keep our hope alive and keeps us from getting consumed by negativity, and it leads to an overall sense of contentment.
Several years ago this woman named Laura Story wrote this song called “Blessings” that talks about this very thing. For a while it was played nonstop on the radio, so I guess it struck as big a nerve as that Rolling Stones song.
When friends betray us when darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise
Have you ever known God to work in this way in your life? I’ve caught glimpses of it, and I know that it’s true. In some ways, it doesn’t make sense, but we have a God who can bring blessing out of the most difficult situations in our lives. And that’s good reason to give thanks in every situation.
I saw a quote on social media a while back that said:
“Sometimes God takes away something you never expected losing, but He will replace it with something you never imagined you could have”
And this leads me to the last word that is a key to contentment, and that’s “Grace”. Our God is a God who is full of grace, grace that brings beauty out of brokenness, healing out of heartache.
God does these things because He is a God whose very nature is goodness and faithfulness. Ours is a God whose love for us is unconditional–no matter what the circumstances, we can never be separated from God’s presence and love in our life. That’s grace, folks!
In many of the Psalms, we see this phrase, “God’s steadfast love endures forever”. In Psalm 136 this line repeats itself in every single one of the 36 verses in that psalm.
It’s like a refrain, as the Psalm recounts God’s faithfulness from the very beginning of creation, to the saving of the people of Israel from slavery and bondage in Egypt, through the years in the wilderness, and to rescuing them from the different nations that attacked them after they made it to the promised land.
Like it did for the Israelites in Old Testament times, this psalm invites us to remember God and His steadfast, constant love through each challenge and hardship that we face.
Maybe we could each write our own version of Psalm 136 and recount the ways that God has been faithful to us in whatever we have gone through over the years of our life.
If we did, maybe we would see how God never abandoned us, even when we strayed away from Him, even when we felt like we didn’t deserve His love.
Is that good news, or what? Paul knew firsthand that amidst all the hardship and pain he experienced in his life, even living with a constant thorn in his flesh, that nothing can separate him from God’s presence, his faithfulness and his love.
And if Paul could know this kind of grace, we surely can as well. God’s faithfulness and unconditional love for us is the epitome, the essence of grace.
And when we live each day with an awareness of that grace, we can’t help but experience a deep sense of peace and contentment. God’s grace is enough for us.
So what’s the secret of contentment? To me, the secret can be summed up in three words- enough, gratitude and grace.
Paul’s words and example from his life show us that contentment comes to us when we live with an awareness that knowing God and being known by Him is enough, it comes as we live with gratitude and thanksgiving in every situation, even the painful times, and contentment comes in knowing that we have a God who is full of grace, and that is enough for us.
Enough, Gratitude, and Grace- When you take the first letter of each word, it spells what? E-G-G. Egg.
I don’t know which came first, the sermon or the egg, but what I do know is that eggs and contentment go well together. AMEN.