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.