Perspective - A Key to Contentment1
I am so amazed at how easy discontentment creeps into my thoughts. “If only . . . then I could have . . . or I could be . . .” That constant comparison to the “better life.” My thoughts don’t seem to drift to how stinking blessed I am nearly as often. My observation is that most of you struggle with contentment like I do. Not all of you. For some of you contentment just comes naturally, but you are few and far between, and if I could be like you then I too would be . . . oh, never mind!
Because our thoughts don’t naturally focus on being content we have to work at it. You don’t have to be ashamed if you struggle with contentment, we are in good company. Paul tells us in Philippians 4 that he “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” v.11 and that he “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” v.12. You see, Paul, like you and me, wasn’t just naturally content, he had to learn to be content. You can check out the secret in v.13. His strength came from outside of himself, but it still required Paul to do his part with that strength.
One of the things that help me to be content is keeping a realistic perspective of life. To do this I consider the facts. Sometimes I even imagine that I am whining to God about my unfair circumstances and He reminds me of these “perspective facts”:
My circumstances versus Solomon’s (you know, the richest man on earth at the time):
- Ice: What Solomon wouldn’t have given to have ice at his disposal for those dry desert days? Although he had plenty of concubines to fan him with palm branches, I am willing to bet that he would have gladly traded that for our air conditioning.
- World travel: Solomon’s “world” did not span very far and travel was slow, dirty and bumpy!
- Communications: No CNN, no internet, no email, no IM
- Information: Solomon may have been the wisest among men but think if he had Wikipedia at his fingertips. How did I survive bG (before Google)?
- I could consider food, leisure, music, sports, health care, crime and various other subjects in which Solomon would be absolutely baffled if he were sitting with God listening to my whining. At nearly every point I am better off than Solomon. Worship center? Alright, you got me there!
My circumstances today versus a hundred years ago:
- Travel: Although not as slow as Solomon’s travels, getting across the country meant a long train ride and getting off the continent meant a slow boat.
- Longevity: The average lifespan in the U.S. in 1900 was 49 years; today it is 78 years. The difference between a poor person and a rich person in 1900 was 17 years; today there is no difference.
- Dining: Only the very exclusive dined out in the early 1900s. Today the average American eats a meal out four times a week. If you exclude fast food, it is once a week at a sit down dining establishment.
- Health care: Although the country’s “number one issue” is the cost of health care, refer back to longevity; how much are those additional 29 years worth to you? Additionally infant mortality rates in the U.S. dropped nearly 95% between 1900 and 2000 (http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/haines.demography). Prior to WWI health insurance did not even exist to any significant sense. In 2004, all but 14% had health insurance. However, even the 14% receive treatment when they arrive at the emergency room. Heart disease, stroke and nearly every form of cancer has been in decline for the past three decades having increased due to people living longer.
- Home ownership: In the early 1900s less than 20% of people owned their own homes, today more than 70% do.
- Leisure: In 1850 the average American man’s work week was sixty-six hours. That decreased to fifty-three hours in 1900 and forty-two hours in 2004. University of Chicago professor, Robert Fogel estimated that in 1880, because of long work hours and the time required to do routine activities and chores, the typical American adult male spent about eleven hours a week “relaxing.” Today that has expanded to forty hours a week.
- Crime: Nearly every category of crime in San Diego has been in decline since 1990 with total crime down by nearly 75% since 1990; now the lowest since 1963. (http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/feb/02/san-diegos-crime-rate-lowest-1963/)
Me versus the world today:
- I am part of the richest 10% of the world as measured by income and net worth (so are you if you make at least $25,000 a year or have $61,000 of net worth.)
- I have access to clean drinking water while a large portion of the world does not.
- I have sanitary conditions (trash pick-up and bathrooms) wherever I go, but a large portion of the world does not.
- I have refrigeration and an ice maker, a rarity around the world.
- I have several computers while only one in a hundred people around the world have even one computer.
- I am part of the 8% of the world that owns a car.
- I am part of the 1% of the world that has graduated from college.
I could go on and on but I think you get the idea.
This helps me to keep a more true perspective on how blessed I am driving out the malcontent that wants to raise its ugly head in my life.
(Much of the statistics listed above come from Gregg Easterbrook’s book, The Progress Paradox and Richard Sterns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel.)