In the comments on Daniel’s recent post on overemphasizing the “buddy system” as an ethical model, a friend asked the following:
“How content is too content? I’ve been feeling very happy lately, and it’s making me a little uncomfortable. Should it?”
I started to respond in a comment but realized I had a lot of thoughts on the subject. So here’s my answer:
First, I think that even pondering the question “How content is too content?” is evidence that you are unlikely to ever be “too content” for very long. If you are truly self-examining to the extent that being “too happy” or “too content” is a cause for question, then I think you are doing a great job of carefully considering the course of your life. Keep on paying attention!
Second, I think a huge part of considering this question involves defining “content”. Do you mean “content” as in “happy and fulfilled and feeling that I am responding well and fully to God’s calling”? Or “content” as in “happy and satiated and feeling that I don’t want to get out of bed ever”? (Confession: fighting this one right now!) Or “content” as in “sedentary, happy, and sitting back on my heels with a feeling that I have arrived and thus can coast through the rest of life”?
I think the “bad” kind of contentedness comes around when we allow happiness to lull us into inaction or a sense of achieved permanency. For example, one way I struggle with contentedness right now is my desire to find one place to live, take root there, and resolve never to leave because I want to be from somewhere and not from everywhere, as I was growing up as a PK. My “poor-me plea” line is, “I’m not really from anywhere — I’ve never lived in any place for more than seven years. I want to plant roots and have a hometown and be FROM somewhere!” Implicit in this near-whine is, “God, after all I’ve done for you, don’t I deserve this? Don’t I deserve being able to rest on my laurels for a while and enjoy my happiness?”
Again, the desire for contentedness is not “bad”. BUT, as we see in my example above, it is extremely easy for a desire for contentedness to “take over” and become an idol, something that we feel God “owes” us. In short, contentedness becomes problematic when we let it block our responsiveness to God’s call.
Let’s return to my “planting roots” example from earlier. Let’s say that Daniel and I have a lovely, happy, financially responsible housing situation that involves living with other Christians (we do). Let’s say that I struggle with feeling like a meandering wanderer with no past roots and I want to make a long-term commitment to a geographical community as a part of my spiritual calling, etc. (I do.) Let’s say that I get so caught up in the importance of planting my roots in my current geographical community that I completely ignore and run from God’s call for us to move to Peru. (This is where it gets hypothetical, but you never know!) At first, my desire for geographical community roots came from a desire to serve God and God’s sheep where I am. That’s a good thing. But as soon as my interpretation of God’s plan for me becomes more important than God’s ACTUAL plan for me, I place my own contentedness higher than God. I no longer want what God wants.
So, how content is too content? …It depends. Do you feel lazily-and-sedentarily contented, like when you never want to get out of bed? Or do you feel actively-and-vocationally contented, like when you feel awesome after a tough workout? Are you sulkily clinging to your contentedness as if God owes you some happy, easy times after “all you’ve done for Him”? Or does your contentedness come from a sense of peace and trust in God’s plans for you, no matter where those plans take you in life?
Of the first kind of contentedness, I want none! (In the big-picture, that is. In the small picture, I want it all the time.)
Of the second kind of contentedness, the kind that comes from having the “peace that passes understanding down in my heart” (Where? Down in my heart!), I want more!
So go ahead and be content — but make sure it comes from God and not from you.