Contentment

February 12, 2004 | 6 comments
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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?

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6 Responses to Contentment

  1. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2004 at 11:38 pm

    Yes. The Godlike person must comprehend all states of being.

    May I suggest a few additional contentment scriptures? ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ ‘This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ ‘he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full’ ‘

  2. Brent on February 13, 2004 at 11:20 am

    Note that Nephi also warns against excessive contentment (e.g. “all is well”) in 2 Nephi 28:21. However, I think there is something to be said with finding “personal contentment.”

    Elder Maxwell addressed contentment at conference in April, 2000:

    http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-4-28,00.html

    President Faust spoke a few years back about the gospel and how it fulfils three important human needs (1) peace of mind (2) self esteem and (3) personal contentment. I couldn’t find a link, but the cite is James E. Faust, “Heirs to the Kingdom of God,” Ensign, May 1995, 61.

    I think there is something to be said for contentment. Those who are content, it seems to me, are happier. They are more open to the Lord’s counsel and are not constantly agitating against “hard doctrines”. They look more toward others, because they are not just focused inward.

    I think we should be a little of both–constantly striving for perfection while being content, through our hope in Christ, that where we are at any given moment is sufficient.

  3. Levi on February 13, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    Here’s the entry on contentment from Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary:

    A state of mind in which one’s desires are confined to his lot whatever it may be (1 Tim. 6:6; 2 Cor. 9:8). It is opposed to envy (James 3:16), avarice (Heb. 13:5), ambition (Prov. 13:10), anxiety (Matt. 6:25, 34), and repining (1 Cor. 10:10). It arises from the inward disposition, and is the offspring of humility, and of an intelligent consideration of the rectitude and benignity of divine providence (Ps. 96:1, 2; 145), the greatness of the divine promises (2 Pet. 1:4), and our own unworthiness (Gen. 32:10); as well as from the view the gospel opens up to us of rest and peace hereafter (Rom. 5:2).

    I think the definition you use for ‘contentment’ makes a big difference in whether it’s acceptable or not. I think it’s a case of degree; contentment as the absence of avarice, sinful ambition, etc. is good, while contentment as a block to progress is bad.

  4. clarkgoble on February 13, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    As Levi suggests, I think there are multiple sense of contentment at play. This seems one of those issues where we can equivocate very easily.

    Some are good, others are bad.

  5. Kristine on February 13, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Adam, you left out the loveliest of all:

    “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will *rest in his love,* he will joy over thee with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

    But all of these are about contentment (ours and the Lord’s) as the by-product of a righteous life, not as a goal to be achieved or sustained in this life.

  6. Jim F. on February 14, 2004 at 10:25 pm

    I think that Kristine’s comment is important. We too often think of such things as happiness, joy, and contentment as things that can be pursued in themselves, when they are by-products of a godly life. In my experience, those who aim to be happy sel