Yesterday, as I was reading FOREIGN POLICY magazine, I came across this quote:
“In another way, Europe’s culture confounds economists. Citizens of Europe’s wealthy countries are not working longer hours to make higher salaries and accumulate more goods. Rather, European culture continues to prize long vacations, early retirements, and shorter work weeks over acquiring more stuff, at least in comparison to other developed countries, such as the United States. In my observation, those living in most Western European countries appear to be more content than Americans with the kind of commodities they already have….” (Robert Fogel, Foreign Policy, Jan 2010, p75)
He was talking economics. But I focused on the word “contentment”. As Fogel suggests contentment is in part at least a function of values. Here we have a case where the habits of Europeans and Americans display different values and seem to have different grounds for contentment. How right he is in his economic evaluation (he is a Nobel Laureate) does not interest me as much as his being confounded that people might be more content walking in the woods than buying a big screen TV.
Christians have always remarked that contentment is rooted not in the circumstances of our lives but in God who gives life. We would do well to ask: what is my source of contentment? How do the habits of my life display that I find more contentment in the Lord than a trip to the mall? I have found that often times we pass up the opportunity to walk in the woods to go to the mall to find something that might give us pleasure. And afterwards I observe a walk in the woods give us much more joy and contentment.
Spiritual formation is about lining up our lives with Christ. We want our values and our behaviours to be shaped by our faith and trust in the Lord. That also means the sources of our pleasure and contentment need to be rooted in our walk with Christ.
Elders are called to help people conform their lives to Christ. When we question the sources of our contentment, we help God’s people in their walk with Christ. We know where we ought to be: “seek first the Kingdom,” said Jesus. Resisting the pull of the culture and embracing the contentment of “counting all as loss” for the sake of serving Christ is part of our struggle.