As I drove home from work today, I heard an announcement for an upcoming program on Wisconsin Public Radio dealing with the topic of contentment. Implicit in the announcement was an assumption that contentment is a worthy life goal. This caught me off guard. Honestly, it has never occurred to me to pursue contentment. I’m not sure I even know what it means.
So I did a scripture search and found very little to support a “doctrine of contentment” (at least in the KJV). Paul wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) The only other reference of note comes from the Book of Mormon in that famous passage where Alma the Younger is wishing that he were an angel: “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.” (Alma 29:3)
In these passages, contentment may function merely as a synonym for gratitude. Gratitude is good. As my Seminary students might say, “I’m down with gratitude.” But being grateful and being content seem like different states of mind. Contentment is at odds, or at least in tension, with that oft-quote charge of the Savior: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) This passage conjures images of striving and improving, while contentment places me in a rocking chair in my living room, leafing through the latest issue of Reader’s Digest.
So now I wonder: should I try to get in touch with my “Paul side” — the guy who is content with “whatsoever state I am”? Or should I remain in “Alma mode,” constantly reaching, sometimes beyond my grasp?