When I was twelve years old we lived in my grandparents’ unfinished basement for a year. We set up our beds at one end of the basement and piled up our boxes to create "rooms." We arranged our living room furniture and put down a braided rug on the cold concrete floor to make a family room area.
We celebrated one Christmas in that basement, and my youngest sister was born during this period of our family life.
My dad had ended his farming career and was working on getting various licenses so he could sell insurance. Lack of funds during this transitional time necessitated our stay with my grandparents. Although we were thankful to them for allowing us to stay with them, the rapport between them and my parents was often rocky, so the stay wasn’t easy relationally.
It was a challenging time for my family.
Even at my young age, I distinctly remember God bringing Philippians 4:11b–13 to mind:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.
I knew that Paul was in prison when he wrote this. I knew my situation wasn’t that bad. If Paul could be content in prison, surely I could be content too!
Part of the ease I had in putting my faith in this scripture promise was because I was a child. If faced with the same circumstance today — as an adult — I’d have a more difficult struggle being content in such living conditions, believe me! However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered a no-fail recipe for contentment: gratitude.
"Thanksgiving brings contentment," writes Elisabeth Elliot in Secure in the Everlasting Arms, and I believe that’s true.
When I start thinking about all I have to be grateful for, my restless, discontent heart is quieted. I live in the most privileged country in the world. I have a loving husband and two sweet boys. Extended family and friends surround me. I can exercise my religious and political freedoms without fear of personal harm. I am healthy. I live in comfortable house and have food and clothing. These gifts alone make me wealthier than many people throughout the world. How could I not be content with such blessings?
My husband bought me an iPod nano for my birthday, which I’d wanted for quite a while. But immediately I began thinking of more things I wanted as soon as I received it: car adapter, Bose speakers, and more money to spend on iTunes. Now the new nanos have arrived, and I find myself desiring them. They have video and cooler colors than my "old" one!
My heart is never satisfied. I always want more. I’ve learned good gifts alone don’t bring contentment.
Well, maybe for a while, but not for a lifetime. Not even gifts from God. They alone don’t satisfy. Plus, gifts can be taken away. What then?
Although it’s right for me to be thankful for all the gifts God has given me in good health, a loving family, food, and so on, there is something more that I must be most thankful for — Christ Himself.
Nothing satisfies like the ultimate gift of Christ, given through His work of salvation.
There is nothing else I should be more grateful for, and nothing else that can bring about soul-deep contentment, no matter what the circumstances of life may hurl at me.
Someday, my health may be taken by cancer. I may lose my family or home. My political and religious freedom may be apprehended. What then? Will I, like the imprisoned Paul, still be content? Will I still find something to be thankful for?
There is but one thing that can never be taken: our relationship with Christ. The Puritans have it right when they write in The Valley of Vision:
If I should suffer need, and go unclothed,
and be in poverty,
make my heart prize thy love,
know it, be constrained by it,
though I be denied all blessings.
So, whether I’m living in a comfortable home, or an unfinished basement, there will always be something to be thankful for.
And being thankful, I can be content, no matter if I’m experiencing the tangible blessings of God, or not.