Cultivating Contentment: A Response to Enough by Adam Hamilton

Cultivating Contentment: A Response to Enough by Adam Hamilton February 3, 2012

Do you have enough? Are you always striving for more? What might truly satisfy you? Will you ever be content?

These questions are addressed in a fine book called Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity (Abingdon, 2009/12). It was written by Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. This outstanding church, the largest in the United Methodist denomination, reflects the giftedness and wisdom of Hamilton, the church’s founder and teaching pastor. Whether in person or in writing, Hamilton communicates clearly, engagingly, and humbly. He bases his ideas squarely on careful biblical interpretation, but makes multiple connections to the issues and challenges of people today. As I read Enough, I found myself quickly willing to trust Hamilton as a spiritual friend and guide. This is a solid, book. Plus, it’s not overly long, which means it does not waste your time. As a writer, Hamilton gives us just “enough.” (Sorry!)

One of the chapters that I found most encouraging and challenging is called “Cultivating Contentment.” Let we warn you, however, that in my printing of the book, there is an unfortunate typo. The chapter heading for chapter 3 in the table of contents rightly reads “Cultivating Contentment,” which is the point of the whole chapter. But the text of the book mistakenly uses the title “Cultivating Commitment.” I note this so you won’t be confused if you try to find the chapter with which I want to interact. (This is, by the way, a publisher’s nightmare.)

Hamilton’s point in chapter 3 is that we need to cultivate contentment in our lives. Discontent, rampant in our culture today, drives us to live harried and hollow lives, as we strive to fill our souls with stuff that cannot satisfy.

As I worked my way through the chapter, I thought to myself, “But, wait, some kinds of discontent are good. Sometimes contentment is actually bad.” I wondered if Hamilton would make the distinctions that are needed when we talk about contentment. Sure enough, he does. He quotes the philosopher James Mackintosh, “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are” (p. 71). Hamilton elaborates: “In other words, it is a positive motivator to be discontent with our moral character, our spiritual life, our pursuit of holiness, our desire for justice, and our ability to love” (p. 71). Indeed. There is much in our personal lives and in our world about which we should not be content. Yet, we are too often content with our sinfulness and with social injustice and poverty, while being discontent because we don’t have all the stuff we’d like to have for ourselves. This kind of discontent drives us to miss life’s delights as we struggle and strive to possess that which will not truly satisfy our souls.

Hamilton offers four keys to contentment:

1. Remember that it could be worse.

He admittedly borrows this one from John Ortberg. I get the point, but wish Hamilton had offered something more of substance here. I began to worry that the book was going to turn into a pop self-help book, rather than biblically-based teaching on contentment.

2. Ask yourself, “How long with this make me happy?”

Again, there is wisdom here, but more of the Ben Franklin variety. Hamilton does support this point with a personal example in which he bought a PlayStation2 that gave him only momentary pleasure. One of the strength’s of Enough is Hamilton’s willingness to share his foibles as well as his successes.

3. Develop a grateful heart.

Indeed. Solid biblical counsel here. More about gratitude later in the book. Hamilton is back on track.

4. Ask yourself, “Where does my soul find true satisfaction?”

This key to content receives the longest treatment of the four, and rightly so. This is Hamilton at his best, drawing from Scripture to teach us that true satisfaction is to be found in God alone. He writes, “The only real satisfaction of our souls is Jesus Christ. We can be content because we know Christ is by our side no matter what we’re talking through” (p. 84).

There is more of value in chapter 3. Next, Hamilton explains “Five Steps for Simplifying Your Life.” These are well-worth consideration. In fact, I think I’ll blog on them down the road a piece. But, for now, I want to close by reflecting for a moment on Hamilton’s question: “Where does my soul find true satisfaction?”

It would be so easy for Christians like me to say, “In God” or “In Christ alone.” We know this is the “right” answer. And so we’re inclined to shout it out like a kid in a children’s sermon. But I have to wonder, am I truly content in Christ? Do I find so much meaning, love, and satiation in him that I can say I am content and would be no matter the circumstances of my life? Could I truly say with the Apostle Paul, “I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

I don’t think I could say that, honestly. Yet, I wonder, what does it mean to be content in Christ? Does this mean I have no other yearnings at all? Does this mean I would be completely fulfilled if I were a hermit sitting in a cave meditating on Christ all day long? I’m going to think about this and get back to you later. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Let me conclude this post by saying that I appreciate Adam Hamilton for raising issues I really need to think about. Perhaps you do too. If so, I highly recommend Enough.

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