Is being motivated and driven to improve one’s situation (financial and otherwise) contradictory to the call to be content? Does being content mean being complacent?
That’s the heart of a back and forth conversation I’ve been having with someone on Facebook. The conversation has left my brain operating in high gear for a while now, thinking, contemplating, and praying for wisdom from God, which He of course promises to generously give us (James 1:5).
The conversation started with a message from a friend trying to sort out her own feelings on being content with her own current situation (namely, her husband being underemployed) and whether or not it was a sign of discontent to do something to change the situation. Pretty deep, huh? She was contemplating starting a business but was mentally trying to work through the theology of the situation, so to speak. How do you balance moving forward with being content and thankful in the now?
After sleeping on it overnight before replying, I realized that the issue is only complex because we relate motivation and drive with chasing after money (or anything else), in many cases. Chasing after more money is like having a stick with a carrot dangling from it always in front of you. You’ll never get what you’re chasing, but you will exhaust yourself and be perpetually frustrated. When money is what you seemingly lack, though, it’s hard not to chase after it and make more moo-lah your goal.
The other side of it, complacency means just standing there, stopping, no longer moving. Of course, if you stop moving, eventually you start to slide backwards…financially, spiritually, health-wise. In whatever area you’ve become complacent, you eventually go backwards.
This isn’t easy to write about because we’ve been in difficult circumstances ourselves for a while now, and learning to be content while keeping on has been a challenge (One I fail at many times, I might add). I can only write about what I know, and what i know is this: we are called to be content with what we have, but that doesn’t imply complacency with who we are and situations within our control.
What we have right now, at this moment, should be “enough”. I shouldn’t “need” one more material possession to make me happy. As I wrote in Shopping and Cooking Frugally, the problem with discontent is that as soon as you’ve gotten that shiny new iPhone, suddenly a new version of the iPhone comes out, and you’ll become discontent with the one you have. As of this writing, dear husband and I have decided to not get another cell phone contract until we reach a certain financial goal (that being, free of the medical bill and having secure housing). For right now, we have cell phones from the dollar store. Being content when everyone and their brother (including the old farmer up the road) seems to have an iPhone now is a constant battle. The dollar store cell phone meets our needs. It is enough.
There are many things I’d love to have or to do, but for right now, today, what I have and what I have to do is enough.
Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. We all do. We all, I’m sure, have areas where something new beckons us and sows seeds of discontent in our hearts, when all we really need is what we already have.
Contentment vs. Complacency
Contentment isn’t about being complacent in our situation. Contentment is about not needing “one more thing” (one more dollar, one more job, one more tech gadget, one more vacation, one more house, one more car….newer, better, shinier, upgraded anything) to make us happy.
Complacency, on the other hand, says “I guess I’m stuck like this for ever and ever, so I’m going to give up and stay here”.
Maybe it doesn’t say it just like that, but on some level complacency basically gives up and resigns itself to life as it is right now, and stops pushing forward for positive change, improving life, growing spiritually, eating healthier, losing weight. As I said, if you stop moving forward in complacency, eventually you start moving backward. More weight gets packed on without noticing it. You spiritually dry up but don’t know why. Financially you fall further and further behind. If you’re not moving in the right direction, you’re moving in the wrong direction.
Yes, we can apply this not just to money. I had basically given up on ever losing weight because I could practically starve myself and not see the scale change enough to make a big difference. So I became complacent. I finally said, “Well, I am fat. I can’t change it. I’m 42 years old, and I’ve had this weight for 10 years. I guess it’s here to stay, so let’s embrace it! I’m going to stop trying!” After going to the hospital (to the tune of $15,000+) and realizing that the fatty liver issues were causing other problems (heartburn/chest pains being the worst), I changed my eating habits radically, not expecting to lose a pound (I’m happy to report I’ve lost more than a pound).
As a Christian, it’s too easy to be complacent with who we are. We think, “Well, I’ve made it here to a socially acceptable level of Christ-likeness. Pushing any further means being a weirdo, and change is hard, so I’m going to coast from here…”
Financially, we can say, “Well, here we are. We’re losing our house. Income drops every year. Expenses rise every year. I give up trying!” That’s not contentment. That’s complacency.
On the other hand, we can be content simply by knowing that we’ll be happy and joyful even if the situation never changes, while taking steps in a direction that bring about a likely positive outcome.
How Does This Motivated Contentment Work?
Let’s use the example of weight loss. I’d love to one day be a size 12, but that’s not what I live for (anymore!). I’ll be happy if I never lose another pound, but for the sake of my health I’m going to eat as healthy as I can and move my body as much as I am able to, so that I can be healthy for as long as possible. I’m motivated to get healthier. I’m not going to go to the extreme of living at the gym and starving myself (been there, done that) or taking dangerous weight loss products, but I’m not going to go to the other extreme of saying, “OH well, I give up!” either. I’m going to stay on the course with the most likely positive outcome, no matter what the short term results are.
Financially, it works pretty much the same way. You can be content with what you have while still taking steps in the right direction. You can be content while allowing your situation to motivate you to take steps to create a long term change in your situation. Obviously, I sell ebooks and books, mostly on Amazon.com, or via this website. Contrary to what I always assumed, just having a published book doesn’t make you rich. Bummer, right? Another childhood illusion dashed…
I’m moving in the right direction, even though I may not be moving “fast enough” to please my impatient heart. I try to remind myself to ignore the 200 or so emails per day that I get advertising “this amazing business opportunity that will solve all of my problems”.
Walking on the highway towards the goal, Contentment says, “Stay the course you’re on. Keep going in the right direction.”
From the ditch on one side of the road, Greed and Discontent might say, “I’m not getting there fast enough; let’s try this get rich quick scheme out!”
In the ditch on the other side of the road, Complacency says, “This is hard, and it’s not working. I quit. What’s on TV? Let’s surf the web.”