I don’t know about you, but I find that I seem to be more urgently missing what I don’t have or can’t do. While I completely understand and support social distancing, staying home, and keeping our distance, it brings me face to face with a longing for what I don’t have and the things I miss. For instance, I need a haircut! I like going out to eat. I also like to run to the store to pick up what’s missing for the recipe I found – even if the pantry is well stocked to make something else. I want something and I want it now.
The Coronavirus certainly is not to blame for the dissatisfaction in our lives. I think our desire for what we don’t possess is deeply rooted in a culture driven to consume. Our present experience just seems to make our discontentment more pointed, noticeable. We really want things to get back to normal (which is unlikely) and part of normal is the ability to get what we want.
Maybe this is one of the “silver linings” to the public health crisis we face. It is forcing us to make do; to be satisfied; to count our blessings; maybe even to be thankful for what we have. That, after all, is a long-standing bit of spiritual wisdom that has stood the test of time.
The Apostle Paul found himself in prison waiting to hear whether Emperor would grant him life or death. He wrote to his beloved siblings in the faith in Philippi saying:
“… I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul takes what comes and is satisfied with what he has not because he has somehow become better than others. No, Paul has learned that with God’s strength, all things are possible. That when you have God with you it matters not what you have or don’t have. That is something I need to let sink into my hard heart… and head.
Paul also teaches his companion, Timothy, about contentment with a truth that pierces the discontent heart: “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it…” (1 Timothy 6:6-10) All that we have comes from God and most of it is of little eternal value.
Perhaps one of the spiritual lessons we can take away from this time of differing our desires and wants is a greater ability to be content. Contentment, not acquisition, is the key to happiness. As St. John Chrysostom, one of the greatest preachers of the Gospel said, “Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward & learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.”
In these challenging days, may we all find a path to want what we have and give thanks to God for what we have and what we don’t.
Pastor Tim Olson