Our church's women's retreat is coming up in March with a theme of "Rejoice!" I'm helping to set up the breakout sessions, and in preparation for that, I've begun studying the book of Philippians. Yesterday, I was struck by these words from Paul in Philippians 4:11-13:
"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
I have read those words many times before but yesterday the word "learned" struck me. I began to think about how you would go about learning to be content. We live in one of the most materialistic cultures in the world. We have so much in this country, yet we are always wanting more. Many Americans live on credit that so overextends them that their lives are one big ball of stress caused by trying to figure out how to make ends meet.
Imagine how much less stress we would have in our lives if we learned to be content. I don't know what happens in your home, but it seems that as soon as Christmas is over, my kids start talking about the things that they want for their birthdays, which are four and six months away. The only way our kids will learn to be content in all circumstances, with both their material possessions and with their life circumstances is if we teach them how to do that.
The tempation is to remind our children how good they have it. Did your mother ever tell you to clean your plate because "there are starving children in Africa?" Did you ever wonder how those two things were related? Was your mother going to scrape the stuff off your plate, put it in a box and send it to those kids in Africa?
Kids need concrete, non-preachy ways to help them understand the idea of contentment, which is simply finding joy in your own circumstances. Because our joy does not come from our situation but from knowing God through Jesus, we should be able to find contentment in any circumstance. Open your kids' eyes to the way other children in other parts of the world (and even in places near your home) live, but do it in such a way that it teaches them contentment--not makes them wonder what the connection is.
When your kids start to get the "gimme's" for things that are well beyond their reach, help them to focus on the blessings in their own lives. Gently turn the conversation to the things they have to be thankful for. Play a game to see who can name the most things for which they are thankful.
Participate in service projects that allow your kids to help other kids, both locally and abroad. Help out at a local soup kitchen. Collect books for a local school or homeless shelter. Get your kids involved in choosing the people they want to help. If at all possible, let your kids tour a facility that helps kids in some way, whether it be a homeless shelter or a ministry partner in the inner city. Give your kids an up-close look at how some other kids live.
Work together to sponsor a child through a Christian organization. Most child sponsorships cost only $30-50 a month. Talk about all the things that your sponsored child receives for that small amount of money. Find out all you can about how your sponsored child lives and compare it to how your children live.
Talk about contentment with your kids. Read Philippians 4 with them and talk about how Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. As a family, make a list of the things that make you content. Focus on the intangible rather than the tangible. Make up scenarios that take away material things and ask your kids how they could be content. For example, "You live in a tent in the forest, how can you be content?"
Contentment is learned. The most important way you can teach it to your children is to be content yourself. If your kids see you constantly striving to "get more" and never being content with what you have, then that is what they will consider normal. If you have never learned to be content, spend some time with God asking Him to show you how to be content in your current circumstances. Remember that our contentment comes from our joy in Christ, not from any material possessions. When we focus on that, we, too, can learn to be content.