Do you remember Christmas as a little kid? I remember every year I would make a list of the top gifts I was hoping to receive. I don’t think I ever mailed it to Santa, but I would give it to my parents, which in my mind, was just as good.
I remember one year I had a very specific request on my wish list.
Every year I set up a miniature Christmas tree in my room (for my dolls, of course). My special request involved my mini-tree. I asked for a small box under my tree. I wanted to unwrap the box and find a piece of paper inside. The paper would have these words on them:
Be Content with What You Have.
I must have been about 8 years old at the time, and I’m sure this isn’t an item typically found on a second grader’s Christmas list. Now at first glance, it might seem like I was a very low-maintenance 8 year old, but that’s not exactly the case. Even though my upstairs tree would only bear one very simple gift, I still expected my downstairs tree to be full of all the goodies a young kid might anticipate on Christmas morning! (Ha!)
Well, I got exactly what I wanted that year- a note reminding me to be content under the mini-tree and a full-blown Christmas extravaganza under the big tree.
On one level, I think this story is hilarious and maybe a little bit embarrassing. It feels a bit hypocritical, even for an 8 year old with limited understanding of the world. And yet, as I think about it more and more, I’d like to propose a different interpretation to the story – perhaps, at 8 years old, I was actually a little ahead of my time.
Allow me to explain.
I think in our daily life we have the tendency to fall into one of two extremes– either longing and fighting for more, more, more of our own personal desires OR settling into the life we have with little expectation of growth or improvement.
Perhaps there is another way to live.
There are so many scriptures that support the idea of living a life of abundance. Jesus, himself, said that He came that we would have life and life more abundantly. Paul prays that we would prosper and be in good physical health, just like our soul prospers. He speaks of having financial abundance for every good work and of praising the God who is able to do exceedingly beyond what we could ask or imagine.
There are also so many scriptures that support the idea of contentment. Paul writes from prison about learning to thrive in all circumstances- including the seasons of being poor, hungry, and hurting.
Now, some people would say that it’s our job to develop a delicate balance between the two. I disagree.
I don’t think that the goal is a delicate balance. The idea of balance implies that as one thing increases, the other must decrease in order to maintain a happy medium. It would suggest that as we develop a desire for an abundant life, we would see a decrease in our contentment– and that as we practice contentment in our life that our desire for God’s blessings would take a dive.
I don’t think these two ideas live on a teeter-totter that must be balanced- instead it’s a tension, like an on-going game of Tug-of-War, and we need to strengthen both sides simultaneously.
I believe in strengthening my faith. I believe in asking God to expand my belief of what is possible. I believe in a God who wants to give good gifts to me, bless me with an abundance, and fulfill the desires of my heart.
I also believe in strengthening my contentment. I believe in fostering gratitude in every situation I am in and living in peace regardless of my circumstances.
And yet, I admit, I haven’t been doing either of these things very well lately. In this season of infertility, IVF, and endless waiting, I’ve dropped both sides of the Tug-of-War rope.
Instead of strengthening my faith to believe that God is willing and able to bless me with an abundance, I’ve fallen into the opposite. (And no, the opposite is not contentment.) Instead of faith in a God who brings blessing to his children, I’ve found myself entertaining a fear of loss, a fear of lack, a fear that maybe He isn’t actually good to me.
And instead of maturing in my ability to live peacefully in all circumstances, I’ve fallen into a lie that says I have to see a change in my life to be happy. I’ve yearned for changes in my career, my home, my family. And even though I do believe so many of these desires will one day be fulfilled, the problem comes from a false belief that I can’t be happy or live at peace until that day comes.
These fears and lies hinder my game of Tug-of-War. They hinder my ability to strengthen my faith and to strengthen my peace.
And this is why I say that my little 8 year old self was ahead of her time.
I need to remember that 8 year old who woke up Christmas morning with an eagerness for every gift she would unwrap- the first one was found beneath the doll-sized tree beside her bed. She stood alone in her room, lit only by the twinkling lights, and gently unwrapped the tiny box, pulled out a piece of paper and read the simple words encouraging contentment. She let the words wash over her- feeling peace and joy and gratitude- without ever having proof that further blessing awaited her.
After her quiet moment alone, she joined her family and rushed down the stairs- full of hope and expectation- believing that good things were waiting for her there as well.
I think about going to an exercise class and doing biceps curls. When you do curls, the hard part is bringing the weight up toward you, because obviously gravity is helping you come down– but what does the trainer always say? Resist on the way down- that way you’re building muscle both as you contract and release.
For some of us- contentment is difficult, like lifting a heavy weight, while faith for an abundance comes easy, like letting the weight fall back down. For others, it’s the other way around. My challenge for you (and for myself) is to work on the one that is more challenging, while still focussing on the other as well. Make it a goal to develop both faith and contentment simultaneously- developing a heart that is at peace with the blessings of today and believes for even more abundance tomorrow.
If you are feeling like me and relate to the fears or false beliefs I mentioned that can throw us off course- I’d like to invite you to join me in a month-long devotional study. I’m following Sara Hagerty’s 30 days of Adoration plan- where I am spending time every day reminding myself of God’s goodness to me, reinforcing my faith for abundance, and practicing peace in my current situation. Contact me or message me through Instagram and I’ll get you more information.