The Quest for Contentment

by Christine Sine
Screenshot 2023 11 01 at 7.07.04 PM

by John van de Laar

I have a love-hate relationship with contentment. I remember once listening to Sheryl Crow sing, “It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got,” and starting an argument with her in my head, listing all the reasons why wanting more can be a good thing, and why just being happy with what you’ve got can actually, sometimes, be bad. I’m not a status-driven, “I want it all, and I want it now” materialist. I don’t thrive on consumption, and I have no dreams of untold wealth. But I get frustrated when contentment is reduced to stagnant complacency. The way contentment is often described sounds an awful lot like ‘laziness’ to me. I know this wasn’t Sheryl Crow’s meaning, but it is how contentment is sometimes depicted.

If human beings had remained content in this way, we would never have discovered the diverse beauty of lands different from our own. We would never have learned to heal sicknesses, grow crops, or create the amazing tools of communication that we rely on every day. If we were always content, we would never choose to get married, have children, or make friends. While all of these things may have a dark side, in themselves they are gifts, and they have all arisen out of a sense of need, of restlessness, of discontent. 

So, how are we to navigate between the twin dangers of lazy complacency and greedy lust for more—neither of which lead us into true contentment? How are we to understand contentment and how are we to achieve it? I am reminded of a wise, but little known, word that Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). These words have become a guiding principle for me, and they, linked with my worship practice, have opened the door to contentment.

What I’ve learned is that contentment is not about having everything you want (Sheryl Crow was right there). But nor is it about sitting back resignedly and giving up any longing for more. Contentment can be found in a quest to discover new things, to experience new places and even, within reason, to acquire new possessions. The key for me is in Paul’s words, which indicate that contentment is not a destination. It’s part of the quest.

When we are so busy trying to get more, do more, be more, that we have no time to enjoy the places and people we find ourselves with, we will never be at rest. On the other hand, when we just check out, and give up the journey altogether, we end up disheartened and depressed—existing instead of living. But, when we are able to embark on the adventure that is life, seeking new learnings, new experiences and new people, while celebrating each moment, each milestone and each new bend in the road, we discover a life that is vibrant, full and, yes, content.

One simple practice, that worship teaches, can open the doors to this vibrant, adventuresome contentment—thanksgiving. When we give thanks for what we have and how far we have come, we discover contentment. When we give thanks for the journey itself, and for each moment we find ourselves in, we discover contentment. And when we give thanks for what we have yet to learn and experience and explore, we discover contentment. Thanksgiving moves us away from the addiction to goals, destinations and things, and into appreciation for people, relationships and the glory of living. We may still have goals, we may still journey toward destinations, and we may we still acquire some things, but they are not the point. The point is to be aware, each step of the way, of God’s presence and purpose, of the mystery of our unique place in this amazing universe, and of the love which holds it all together. That is what thanksgiving teaches us. And it is worship that teaches us thanksgiving—if we will only allow it to, through regular, mindful participation.


Join Christine as she leads the last of her three virtual retreats in this year’s Seasonal Retreat series. She will lead a morning of scripture reading and quiet reflection that will be for many of us a much needed oasis of quiet in the midst of this chaotic season.

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