Country Living Series

Monday, December 11, 2017

The threat of contentment

I came across a couple of interesting posts recently.

The first is called “How Your Contentment Is Killing Your Future.” The writer (a Christian named Dale Patridge) wonders if our “healthy desire for contentment become an unhealthy desire for comfort.” He notes he and his wife had moved past contentment into “stagnant, dormant, and latent.”

This writer is a go-getter who became a millionaire by the time he was 30 (and guides other go-getters to follow his principles and become wealthy). As such, he puts great store in leadership, and using both leadership and the resulting wealth to minister to others.

He writes: “You see, as leaders, we can often spend years working to reach the mountain tops of our achievements only to finally arrive, overstay our welcome, and die there in a state of comfort. … But what if God has something more for you? What if He’s just waiting for you to ask, to dream, and to see? What if more life didn’t have to mean more stuff? What if more purpose actually called for less comfort? Ultimately, my challenge to you is this: Is your life small because your vision was small? Has your desire for less lessened your life? Could your obsession for a simple existence leave you with a simple story?”


We all have different gifts in life, and there’s nothing wrong with either leadership or wealth, as long as they’re used to the glory of God.

But a Christian mom who blogs about “living small” rebutted Mr. Partridge’s position. She wrote, “Contentment in circumstances can be misconstrued as settling for mediocre. Nothing could be farther from the truth. … Contentment has served me well as I’ve been frustrated with life circumstances over the years. I’ve learned how to stay content when my circumstances were less than ideal. I’ve learned the fastest ways to kill contentment. I’ve wrestled with what it looks like to remain content when I truly, deeply yearn for more. Truly there is nothing bad to be said about contentment. But settling for a moderate life out of fearful reasons or laziness? That would be tragic. Living small is not ‘settling’ for average. Living small is making choices on purpose to make room for extraordinary.”

While I admire Mr. Partridge’s success and go-getter attitude – we need go-getters in this world – my philosophy at this stage in my life leans more strongly toward “contentment.” Of course this is the difference between someone at the peak of his life’s productivity (30) and someone on the downhill slope of life’s productivity (55).

But the subject of ambition vs. contentment is an interesting one. A few years ago I was asked, by someone I like and respect, where I saw myself in ten years. What, he wanted to know, is our (Don’s and my) goal over the next decade? This question was asked because the gentleman is a go-getter, a business whiz, an operational genius.

I replied that we were very satisfied with our present conditions. Our children have grown into fine young ladies. Our marriage is strong. Our farm is developing well. My “ambition” is to continue following the path we’re currently on, for the foreseeable future, as long as God permits.

But my questioner persisted. Surely we had some lofty goals we wanted to achieve? Didn’t we want financial wealth or societal acclaim? Didn’t we want to change the world in some way? As politely as I could, I said no.

This line of questioning happened years ago, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. Until questioned, I never realized I had such an utter lack of ambition.


The truth is, we DO have ambitions and goals, but they’re just not in keeping with the things corporate America values. We have ambitions of expanding the garden this spring and goals of installing a water tank in the next few months. We have ambitions of improving the barn’s infrastructure and goals to someday put hardwood flooring in the house. We have ambitions to become as self-sufficient as possible on our homestead. We have goals (which we’ve achieved) of launching two well-rounded, sensible, moral young women into the world.

In short, we may lead a life that is quiet and unassuming to the unpracticed eye, but the truth is we’re stable, content, and happy. These, presumably, are the goals and ambitions of many millions of people – to be stable, content, and happy.

“Ambition” is a relatively recent thing for the ordinary person. We’ve always had ambitious people, of course – history is littered with the corpses from the ambitions of tyrants and conquerors – but for the vast majority of regular people, ambition took back seat to mere survival. It’s only in the last few decades that our abundance and affluence has allowed so many people the luxury of career ambitions.

Is this lack of ambition a bad thing? Did we teach our daughters to ask too little of life? Should our goals have been higher?

I remember one time in late June, sitting in the barn working on my laptop, working on a magazine article that was due shortly. (In nice weather, I do a lot of work in the barn.) I was keeping an eye on a cow who was due to give birth at any moment. Chickens were all around me. The daisies and ocean spray were in full bloom. Later that afternoon I had plans to do dishes and laundry.

And I realized this, dear readers, was about the extent of my ambition. This was where I saw myself in ten years: right here. There will be different cows in the corral, and different chickens scratching in the dirt, and the daisies and ocean spray may not be blooming, and our girls have now grown and gone, but it is my dearest hope to continue this lifestyle we’ve achieved and come to love so well. There will always be manure to shovel and gardens to grow, eggs to gather and fruit to pick. And I find my ambitions becoming framed by the boundaries of our property.


But maybe I’m in good company. First Thessalonians 4:11-12 says to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

That’s become my motto.

The world needs leaders. The world needs wealthy people. The world needs ambitious people. But it also needs those of us who don’t harbor any of those goals and prefer to “lead a quiet life.” As long as it’s to the glory of God, it’s all good.

23 comments:

  1. AMEN !! Thanks Patrice, well said !!

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  2. Ugh, I HATE when people want to know my future goals and ambitions. Every single time *I* have made goals and such....the Lord has said, No. Not now. Maybe not ever. So now...I just laugh. I wander and follow Him. But then, He didn't make me a goal oriented person It's not my personality.

    Yet, I've watched others put their goals out there....and feel like failures when said goals didn't pan out. I don't want to spend time and energy upset over unmet goals, and/or feel like a failure because of it. So I let God make my goals, and then lead me on His path. His goals blow me away!!!! Often, they scare me...except that I KNOW He led me to that place, so I guess His job is to enable me to work and finish, as well! Lol!

    HE led us to homeschool. HE brought us to a place on earth that we NEVER wanted to be....and provided an amazing job for dh, a good place to raise our family, a perfect state in which to homeschool, and a quiet home that we LOVE! It is not geographically where we wanted (or still want) to be, but it is what is provided. HE led us to a church which isn't quite what we wanted....BUT....it is obvious that the gifts He gave us have been NEEDED here, and that His timing was perfect.

    We spent this summer celebrating 20 yrs of marriage, and our kids were gone for 2 different weeks, and I FINALLY was OK with the idea that we would be empty nesters in 6.5 yrs....then....lol...HE gave us a wee baby that I am carrying....at 43 yrs of age!!!! Lol! I always wanted more kids, but it was something that didn't work out for different reasons....and right in the midst of some big stress this fall, the Lord dropped this bundle into it all....and caused us to realize, we cannot control ANYTHING! hahaha!

    I don't have one clue where we will be in five yrs! We're praying about moving closer to family, as parents are aging. So maybe that. Maybe not. Maybe we'll still be in our current area....and still struggling with the things that make it hard to be so far from family and close friends. Or maybe this place will have finally accepted us. I can think ahead, but I don't have the first clue what God wants for us in the next yr, much less the next five...or ten! We'll just stay faithful with where we are now, with what He has given us to do.....and we'll leave the planning and ambition and decisions to Him!

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    1. Love your post. You are a wise woman for 43.

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  3. What a thought provoking post. I think you said it in the part right after the peaches- it's not that I don't have goals. My goals however are not glamorous. I think it's somewhat generational. "I want to be a rock-star when I grow up." I would actually like to figure out: a way to keep rosemary alive through winter, how to warp my loom, find a source for naturally raised pork, try my hand at making shoes from a just skinned pelt - and on and on. My goals are measured in knowledge not money or fame.

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    1. Rosemary comes from a Mediterranean climate, where the winters are relatively cool, humid, and rainy. If you can approximate those conditions, you should have no problems overwintering it. I keep my rosemary plants in a south facing bay window in a room that averages 40-50% humidity and 55-60 degrees. I water them weekly or so, copiously, but allowing all the excess to drain. They do NOT like wet feet! Under such care, they no only survive, but actually thrive, even burgeoning with sprays of tiny purple blue flowers in the late winter.

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    2. Rosemary comes from a Mediterranean climate, where the winters are relatively cool, humid, and rainy. If you can approximate those conditions, you should have no problems overwintering it. I keep my rosemary plants in a south facing bay window in a room that averages 40-50% humidity and 55-60 degrees. I water them weekly or so, copiously, but allowing all the excess to drain. Rosemary does NOT like wet feet! Under such care, they not only survive, but actually thrive, even burgeoning with sprays of tiny purple blue flowers in the late winter.

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  4. Excellent thought provoking post as the others have said. I am nearly 70 years old and lived in the fast lane for many years, always seeking more financial and professional success and I was pretty good at it. Then the Lord took my wife to him. I was and still am totally devastated. I have been shown what was actually important in life. Accomplishment and financial success are fine, so long as it not the sole purpose of life.

    Carl in the UP

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    1. So sorry for the loss of your wife.

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  5. I realize that the person questioning you was someone that you liked, but I have been hounded by strangers at parties and at work about my goals.

    My response has always been the same, "Why would you ask me such a personal question?" With the appropriate glare, it's a good conversation stopper.

    My goals are personal to me, I don't need anyone else's justification.

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  6. I lead a quiet life, mind my own business, and work with my hands, just like Scripture dictates. After my divorce 7 years ago I moved to a small town and I've remained single and that's about the simplest life a man can lead. Goals? I have some small ones. Ambition? I have my own ideas.

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  7. I would like to add one qualifier: if you are paying your own way and you are satisfied with your condition you are content. If you are living off of the labor of others, as in collecting welfare and other "entitlements" you are just a lazy parasite.---ken

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  8. There is contentment and there is stagnation. Some folks confuse one for the other.

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  9. Isn't it a good thing that we all don't want the same thing as it would get very crowded.

    I am very sorry for folks who live in such a narrow mind that they cannot fathom being content without constant motion and acquisition.

    To me the folks who define the act of being content is bring things from the outside may find themselves with their glass half full and always searching for what must come from within.

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  10. hi
    i doubt you and your husband can be labelled as without vision or as stagnated.. i can say with confidence your lifestyle is the envy of many, not only in the usa. i say this with a bit of green around the gills.
    all this hurrying around and big business are heading in one direction, one world order and the pace is picking up enormously.

    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
    1 Timothy:6:6-9

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  11. hi
    i doubt you and your husband can be labelled as without vision or as stagnated.. i can say with confidence your lifestyle is the envy of many, not only in the usa. i say this with a bit of green around the gills.
    all this hurrying around and big business are heading in one direction, one world order and the pace is picking up enormously.

    But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
    1 Timothy:6:6-9

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  12. Patrice,

    IMHO, your friend has a very narrow view of things. This life we've been blessed with is not just about corporate America.

    You lead in ways you are not aware of. Your blogs have taught me how to try new things and acquire new skills. Over the years, you have encouraged me, comforted me and inspired me, all through your wonderful blogs. The most mundane writings, such as admitting your kitchen is sometimes not perfect, can be just what I need.

    So please continue leading your quiet life and sharing it with all your readers here in cyber space. Your words mean more than you know.

    Mary

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  13. Patrice,

    In thinking about ambition vs. contentment, I think I may have both and that may not be inconsistent.

    I have the ambition to:

    Finish the doors and molding in the house.
    Finish the greenhouse including all electrical and plumbing.
    Finish the circle drive island and complete all landscaping in it.
    Build the sunken patio my wife wants in the courtyard to the south of the house.
    Install the 60 solar panels we’ve had for a few years to make us power independent.
    Start a new business to make us financially independent.
    Plant more trees as good custodians of our parcel (we planted every one of the 12 we have now and they’re not cheap).
    There’s more but you get the idea.

    I (try to) have the contentment to:

    Know it’s only me.
    I’m only so smart.
    I only have so much energy.
    There’s only so much money.
    This is going to take time.

    Mark

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  14. One man's stagnant pond is another man's Walden.

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  15. Its alright to be a little bitty...

    Alan Jackson , country song circa early 90s

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  16. Right now my only goal is to make it to retirement, 1 year/8 months/14 days and a wakeup. At that point there will not be enough middle fingers for the a-hole bosses of my present and past that have tried their best to irritate me every single minute of every working day of my life.

    I used to try and make a difference at work, but here lately the walls that I have beat my head against for over 40 years have gotten harder than my head. Now I just let these inexperienced ladder-climbing geniuses make mistakes that I won't help them get out of anymore.

    When that glorious day of my working for someone else's benefit comes, the only goal I will have is to shoot a five-shot one hole group at a hundred yards. Mixed in with that will be to do more with less, grow bigger vegetables, figure out why hens quit laying eggs when they should be, and to kick back and let the world go by laughing at the people making the same mistakes I did when I was younger and stupider.

    And above all, maybe just maybe, I can pound enough knowledge in my grandson's head that will keep him alive in the years to come. He's going to need it.

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    1. This is so spot on. I couldn't agree with you more.

      I have watched so many stupid decisions at the workplace over the last 35 years, I am seriously tempted to write a book (or maybe a blog) about it and let everyone have a good laugh when they peek behind the corporate curtain.

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  17. Honestly, he lost me with the first sentence. He seems so young yet apparently so conflicted. Maybe he should be reading books instead of writing them? Maybe I'm wrong?

    In either case, I think Patrice's reference to First Thessalonians is very relevant.
    Dock Guy

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  18. Excellent post! Certainly, there is stagnation, but I wonder about our culture's (or what passes for culture) use of many words, including "ambition," "stagnation," or, yes, "contentment." We all too easily and quickly assume our superior enlightenment, as opposed to previous generations' supposed lack of sophistication and progress. We typically encourage our children to dream and think big. Now, there can indeed be a problem when we overly limit ourselves, rejecting healthy challenges because of inappropriate self doubt. However, as Dirty Harry Callahan observed sagely, "A man's got to know his limitations." Without the realization that such exist, we lead lives full of heat and activity, but with little light, frenetically going from this thing to that thing, devoted to abstractions.

    Now that I'm no longer an Army Chaplain, I work as a counselor. As a general observation, why is it surprising that so many have anxiety and depression when we spend our lives busy with our myriad modern/post-modern ambitions? And the church is often no better, effectively mistaking a full calendar for importance and meaning.

    The fact is that agrarianism is not all by itself the answer either, BUT we as a culture - including the church - have bought into so much that is simply not grounded in reality. We effectively look at bigger, better, faster as the ultimate measures and objects of ambition, absolutely oblivious to the world's and our limits, limits, I believe, God has put in place.

    And then we wonder why we're fatigued and anxious!

    I remember one of Wendell Berry's essays titled, "Think Little", I believe it was. Maybe we'd all be better off if we would devote our ambitions to the small but vital things, rather than the supposed "big" things that likely aren't realistic anyway.

    Blessings,
    David Smith

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