Contentment (And 5 Ways to Transfer it to Our Children): ICM Wk 3

At the close of a four-month stint to India this Fall, we were taking one final walk through the dirty Delhi marketplace.  There among the dusty booths was a narrow "shop" filled with very cheap plastic toys; to our 3-year-old son Ian, it was the jackpot!  Ian's eyes lit up for an electric orange four-wheeler with a string that could be pulled to make it go.  It was his "favorite," and Daddy was the hero that day when he said "let's get it!"
albeit blurry, this is the very four-wheeler Ian played with for hours at the Delhi airport 
Fast-forward a few hours and we're in the airport; Ian is delighted with his four-wheeler, making sure it's with him at all times, even enduring a long 4-hour delay with ease, thanks to his new toy keeping him entertained.  He treasured that cheap plastic four-wheeler as if it were the only toy on earth.  Then we passed it - a very upscale toy store in the airport, and Ian was eager to go inside and look around.  We said it was fine, with the fair warning ahead that "we will only enjoy looking, but we aren't going to buy anything." Ian looked around at the glossy new toys with their vivid colors, each presented in graphically alluring packages, mouth hanging open and flitting from one toy to the next with that magical toddler enthusiasm...and then it was time to leave.

Ian handled the situation well until about 30 seconds out of the store, when he looked at his once-beloved electric-orange four-wheeler and fell to his knees sobbing with discontentment.  "I don't want this one anymore, Mommy."  I said the first thing that came to mind: "but, Ian, you were so happy with this four-wheeler before we saw those other toys."  His response froze me in time for a moment as I witnessed raw human nature overflowing from my small boy...

"I don't like this toy anymore, Mommy.  I want to throw it in the trash."

Something I forget often in our self-glorifying culture is that I don't deserve anything good from God.  As much as we like to cover over this basic truth from the Bible, it is plain that what we actually deserve is Hell - separation from God because of our sinful nature.  But God, from His wellspring of mercy and kindness, has poured out good things on us even while we live in a fallen sin-sick world, even while we deserved death.  Anything good we might have allotted to us in life, whether physical health, our basic needs met, material possessions, family, love, friendship, sight, hearing, breath in our lungs.....it's all abundantly more than we deserve.  (Not to mention the very gospel message of eternal salvation offered in Christ)!  It's all an act of magnanimous mercy!

As Thomas Watson, a puritan writer and preacher from the 1600's, writes in his book The Art of Divine Contentment:
Let us compare our condition with what we deserve.  If we do not have what we desire, we have more than we deserve.  As for our mercies, we have deserved less; as for our afflictions, we have deserved more.
We take the mercies God has given us and we ignorantly sob, telling God we want to "throw it in the trash."  We overlook his sovereignty and his providence, making ourselves as gods, stating "Lord, what you have given me is not good."

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In a practical sense, with the bombardment of Hollywood bodies, "Supermom" idols, Pinterest homes, and blissful Facebook statuses, mothers are constantly tempted to be discontent with who they are, where they live, how they look, and what they're doing.  Media and Marketing are specifically designed to keep mothers changing their products, following trends, and drooling for "more, more, more" "better, better, better," because that is what keeps consumers consuming, and readers reading, and subscribers subscribing, wanters wanting.

How can we stop the cycle?

5 Practical Ways To Practice Contentment (& Transfer it to Our Children): 

1. Avoid Complaining.  

As the Women of Faith group, in their book "Cultivating Contentment," writes: "One of the most visible results of a discontented heart comes right out of our mouths." Sharing our burdens with other believers and with God in prayer is good, but regularly murmuring our complaints aloud risks displaying ungratefulness, distrust in God's sovereignty, and a disregard for Christ's work in us. 
"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." (Phillipians 2:14-15)
 Our kids are being raised within a "crooked and depraved generation;" let's shine like stars in the universe for them to witness, and obey this command to 'do everything without complaining.'

2. Practice Regular Thanksgiving.  

Focus on what you do have and voice it out loud to your children, both in conversation and prayer to God. Remind them of the good that surrounds them each day, especially focusing on things beyond material/financial blessings, and give God the credit.  Try asking your children each evening at dinner what things they were thankful for that day.
"...in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

3.  Try to Avoid Making Everything About Money.

"We can't afford that," or "that's too expensive," is all too often the go-to response parents give when a child wants something.  It just sends the message that money is a means to getting what we want in life, and that's what's holding them back in the meantime.  It will take work finding ways to avoid talking money, but really search for the heart of the matter.  Really; why won't you buy that for them?  Is it really only because of money?  Take time to explain it.  Your kids will learn that there's more to self-control than the size of your wallet.

4.  Serve Others as a Family.

As a family, you could visit someone in the nursing home, bring a meal and warm conversation to a "shut-in," serve in a soup kitchen, or collect donations for a family who has lost their home in a fire.  Visit a third-world country together as a family. ((Whenever I stay overseas with my husband and children, upon returning to our home, my first response is that our house feels like a luxurious palace.  Perhaps just weeks before I was complaining about how our landscaping was ugly)).  When we are serving others, and recognizing others' needs, we're less likely to dwell on our own discontentments, and more likely to see our circumstances in a right perspective.

5. Recognize Sufficiency in Christ.  

"...I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens. I am content whether I am well fed or hungry. I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough. I can do everything by the power of Christ. He gives me strength." (Phillipians 4:12-13 NIRV)
The greek word Paul uses for "content" (autarkes) means "strong enough...to need no aid or support...independent of external circumstances."  Of course we know that Paul did not mean he was strong enough on his own because he says that it is by the power of Christ that he can do everything.  We must eagerly seek to find our sufficiency in Christ so that our external circumstances do not cause discontentment, and this is a key truth we must teach (and model) to our children.

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"Home" Work:

  • What are the things that cause discontentment for you as a mother?  I want to challenge each of us to be honest and make a list.  God already knows our weak hearts, and he loves us.  Let's come to him as his children and confess, sharing our list with him, asking humbly for God to give us his Spirit to learn contentment in the areas of our lives where we have let discontentment seep in.
  • Next to each point on your list of discontentments, write something you are thankful for to counter it, even if the only thing you can think of looks something like: All things work together for good for those who love God; God is sovereign; I believe that, and I will trust him.
  • If you desire to read more about the subject of Contentment, I highly highly highly recommend the book The Art of Divine Contentment (available free as a PDF) by Thomas Watson.  It was a book a dear friend mailed to me after becoming a mother, and while it is an intellectual read, it is so applicable and Spirit-filled.  It really cut me to the core.  Please consider reading it!!

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Group Questions:

1. What are some common areas of discontentment for mothers?
2. What are some ways that discontentment is manifested in children?
3. What are some practical ways that we can teach our children to be content?
4. Let's pick a verse to memorize together this month that will help us remember the virtue of contentment.

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