In Contentment: The Secret to a Lasting Calm, author Richard Swenson explores the concept of choosing to be content no matter what the circumstances–what that really means, what it looks like in practice, how it conflicts with modern values, and how to put it into practice.
The book is thoughtful and helpful, with a good blend of vision and application. Swenson does a great job of breaking down the concept of contentment and giving it biblical, historical, and modern context.
While I can’t say that anything in the book was really new to me, the delivery forced me to examine some of the ways that our culture has impacted my perspective. It is really difficult to call out your own blindspots, so I always appreciate authors who can point to ways our milieu is in conflict with a biblical view.
One example would be the way we view success. Modern western sensibility dislikes the concept of contentment because it smacks of mediocrity and underachievement. But the modern alternative is restless discontent, where nothing is ever enough and we churn around “relentlessly striving after dissatisfactions we can scarcely name.” Swenson shows that biblical contentment is not about sloth, but about taking a right view of work as something we do to the best of our ability, but balanced by the view that we owe our success and every good thing to God, whose provision is trustworthy. Yes, we work for our food, but God provides the soil, sun, water, etc.
Another example is in how we tacitly define the good life. Swenson observes that the modern script defines the good life through media, technology, and money, but greater contentment comes through a community-oriented definition. When we build a rich lifestyle based on community, relationship, and hospitality, we can be content with much less by our culture’s measurement.
I’ve noticed that, for me anyway, technology and media offer a false sense of community–a sense that I’ve connected with an old friend because I’ve seen her pictures on Facebook, when in reality I haven’t talked to her in 14 years and we have no real idea of what’s going on in each other’s lives. Facebook is what it is–the Christmas card of connection–but it’s not real community. One of my goals for this year is to work much harder at real life connections and really owning that my life is happening here in Indiana whether I feel like I fit in or not. Getting together with people and being determined about getting on people’s schedules takes time and is sometimes uncomfortable (I hate feeling like I’m imposing on busy people who already have friends and don’t really need an extra!) but I’m always happier when I make the effort. So I think Swenson’s point about defining the good life as community-based rather than consumption-based is valid and worth deep consideration.
I thought Contentment was a worthwhile read, full of good reminders and helpful challenges to my perspective.
How do you define contentment? Do you think it’s challenging to maintain a counter-cultural definition of living well?
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