By Steven Norris
“Have you made your Christmas list, yet?” I can no more tell you how many times I heard that growing up than there are stars in the heavens. Its refrain echoes through our Christmas conversations to this day — though now it is grandparents, neighbors, and church members asking my children the same thing: “What do you want for Christmas?”
Confession: contentment has always been a struggle for me. My collections of books, instruments, and hats betray me when I casually toss around my desire to live like St. Francis and his commitment to poverty and simplicity. “So, which books are we giving away to simplify our lives?” my wife casually asks. “Which instruments can we sell?”
I recently made mention to our congregation of a now infamous quote from American economist, businessman, and professor, Victor Lebow. In an essay titled, “Price Competition in 1955,” Lebow audaciously named aloud the underlying demands of a consumer economy.
He wrote, “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption.”
Toys break, clothes wear out, appliances need to be replaced, and technology is obsolete before we get it home from the store. Therefore, we are trained and conditioned to want more…and newer…and better…and faster. The scripture says that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), though I would expand that to include all forms of material resources and wealth. When we love our “stuff” more than we love people — more than we love God — we have a serious problem on our hands.
Contentment, on the other hand, is that counter-cultural value that embodies the economy of heaven. It challenges us to distinguish between what is truly vital and what is superfluous. Contentment is cultivated from our relationship to what is going on around us, rather than our reaction to it. It is the peaceful realization that we are whole and complete because of who we are in Christ — because we are children of God. Anger, sadness, joy, frustration, excitement, victory, and defeat will come and go, but they do not alter that fundamental identity.
Our world is in desperate need of a conspiracy of contentment. Therefore, may you sow the contentment’s seed in gratitude, taking stock of your numerous blessings from God. May you cultivate contentment’s sprouts through deep, ongoing trust in God’s provision. May you reap contentment’s harvest through acts service, as you seek to meet the needs of others.
This year, I’ve already altered the conversation with my kids. Just this week, we asked, “How do you want to serve this year at Christmas? What can we do together as a family?” We may choose not add to holiday sales numbers, but that kind of conspiracy might yield a crop of transformation for those who dare to live into a different story.