Contentment, Not Achievement (Daily Lenten Meditation)

Throughout Lent, I will be posting short meditations on the Daily Office readings every day. Please journey and pray with me through these readings. To read previous Lenten meditations click here.

Saturday, February 25
Philippians 4:12-13
“I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Perhaps no verse is more abused than Philippians 4:13, a favorite verse of athletes and achievers who use it as a license to crave more out of life, to do more with life or to beat back adversity. In high school, I remember using this verse to ready me for championship 400-meter dashes, and I felt righteously powered as I sprinted around the track.

But Paul is speaking of contentment not accomplishments. And I do not know what it means to be content in all circumstances, because I have only known plenty. I have only ever been well-fed. I have never gone hungry, and I have always known that there will be another meal in a few hours. It is a luxurious life, to be well-fed. Or overfed.

Very few people in this country know what it means to be hungry or to be in true need. Which is why we have transformed this deeply difficult passage into one of pure frivolity. For the New Testament was written by the persecuted, not the powerful, the poor and outcast, not the rich and the in-crowd. As a result, sometimes, it can be like reading a foreign language poorly translated, because those that have lived their lives at the top cannot imagine the view from the bottom.

I can only imagine that when a Christian living under the thumb of oppression or attempting to withstand a withering, they do not imagine something as silly as winning a one-lap race. This verse is easy for me, because I need so little to survive. I can only wonder whether this verse would sustain me through true hardship in which even my most basic need isn’t met, a world where hunger pangs don’t remind me to eat, but remind me that there is no food to eat.


O God, in a land where amber waves of grain feed us our fill, may always live in extreme gratitude for our simple luck of being born in a place where we can eat regularly. We have too much to eat. And we take too much to eat. Teach us how to repent. Fill us, the profiteers of circumstance, with soul-stirring and feet-moving compassion for those that are victims of it. Fill us with a thirst for righteousness, for justice. Fill us with a hunger to feed the world.


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About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.