How’s that contentment thing going?


December wantitis, n. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when longings or cravings for things thought to bring satisfaction or enjoyment peaks for the year. It may center around one big desire that has been simmering for a while or a number of smaller cravings that together is a big thing.

Some might compare December wantitis to a McDonald’s Happy Meal.  Ask children where they want to go eat and often the predictable answer is McDonald’s.  You can offer to give them a quarter to buy their trinket of choice so they may order something else, but the chant goes up, “We want a Happy Meal. We want a Happy Meal.” It is “the meal of great joy.” You aren’t just buying chicken McNuggets and a tiny plastic movie character ring, you’re buying happiness.

Adults marvel that children never seem to wise up that their Happy Meal does not make them content for long. If they would take a hamburger and quarter instead, they could buy their own living puppy. James Harnish writes, “The truth about human beings is that as we grow up, we don’t get any smarter; our Happy Meals just keep getting more expensive. [But] the world around us tells us that happiness is always just one Happy Meal away.”

January discontent, n. The thirty days immediately following December wantitis when latent discontent becomes visible and actual. The excitement and anticipation of December wantitis often withers thirty to sixty days after Christmas resulting from the mismanagement of the seeds of happiness dreamed about earlier.

C.S. Lewis was strongly influenced by George MacDonald who once wrote this: “Let me, if I may, be ever welcomed in my room in winter by a glowing hearth, in summer by a vase of flowers; if I may not, let me think how nice they would be and bury myself in my work.” MacDonald realized the pleasantness of dreaming and desire.  Furthermore, he realized he could be content without it.  Absent the object of desire, many find it difficult to fathom happiness.

A good and obtainable goal in February is to “learn” to be content. Chained in a Roman prison, the apostle Paul writes to thank his friends for sending him aid.  His letter overflows with joy made possible because, in his words, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.  Contentment did not just happen.  It was not the by-product of a great personality type.  Through mental and physical exertion and practice, Paul came to know, understand, and be able to find satisfaction whatever the circumstance.  It did not matter whether he received much or little of those things people find pleasurable.

Paul had the same longings and cravings as every other human being. Contentment was always in the picture of his life because he had the right focus; Jesus. Just about everyone is familiar with this line from the 23rd Psalm, in the King James Version: “I shall not want.” But what does it mean?

Some people hear that line and see it as a pledge not to desire anything. But that’s not it at all. What the psalmist means by “I shall not want” is better expressed by some modern translations that render this line: “There is nothing I lack.” Or, as another version puts it, turning the phrase around and expressing it positively: “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.” It’s a statement of satisfaction, of sufficiency, of contentment that goes against the grain of our hyper-materialistic consumer society.

Paul, how is that contentment thing going? “Great!”, he would say.  “Jesus is in the picture and with His help, everything is under control.  In fact, “Everything’s coming up roses”! With practice, hard work, focus and faith in Jesus we can say the same, if not now, someday soon.

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