This word has been creeping into my consciousness the last few days, ever since the subject came up as a comment to my last post. Actually, I have been giving this word a great deal of thought for a long time now… decades, in fact. I am puzzled by the concept and what it really means and does not mean.
God's people are sometimes fond of admonishing one another to be content in all circumstances and I have been examining a couple of the passages often quoted. In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul writes, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” and in Phillipians 4:11 he says, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances”. In its rightful context, the first passage is clearly speaking to the hazard of making the pursuit of financial advancement and the acquisition of wealth a goal and, thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be my problem. In the second, the Greek word for ‘content’ means self-sufficient, needing no assistance, adequate… Not so much a state of emotion as a that of being able to live in the midst of whatever the situation entails, without help, if need be. I’m not sure either is helpful in thinking through the attitudes and feelings I have struggled with in regards to my own contentment over the years.
In that last post, I wrote that I am satisfied to stay in our homeplace here, rather than looking for another setting, but I realize I am able to say that because of how our property has changed over time. Almost everything on this half acre, with the exception of the physical structure of the house, has been altered over the last 18 years. Have I manifested contentment as I have made the changes? I do not know, for sure. Certainly, adding the new trees and shrubs and filling the yard with herbaceous plants has created beauty, fed the wildlife and made me smile, but I am still planning and planting, even as the gardens now seem full and almost overflowing. Am I content with the way things are? Should I be? Is a gardener ever truly content? A couple of years back, while talking with my artistic daughter, I asked her at what point she knew that a painting was finished. She answered that it was finished when she could not see anything else she could do that would make it better. Recently, I thought to myself that an artist may have a realization of when their work is done, but I’m not sure that a gardener ever does. There is almost always something else that can be added, subtracted, moved or changed. (This very fact is the reason I love the book and movie title, The Constant Gardener and wish I had thought of it first.) But isn’t that what makes gardening a creative and fulfilling pursuit and passion? Not to mention that it is also following in God’s footsteps.
The Aldo Leopold quote, below the blog title, still holds true for me and I believe the main reason I am content to live here is that here is also where wild things live. What has enabled me to be content here has been as a result of providing for what I have loved and, come to think of it, for what God has loved. Perhaps that is my answer, for now anyway. Perhaps when we throw ourselves into caring for that which we love, contentment comes to us as a by-product, not as a result of our seeking, but of our serving.