I recently read a book (review coming) about modern Japanese society. One of the problems that in Japan (according to this author) is that many people have a passive attitude toward life. They accept whatever is happening in their lives and the world and say "nothing can be done". That got me to thinking about passivity versus contentment.
As Christians, we are told to be content. Paul says that he is content whether in little or plenty (Philippians 4:11-12). What is the difference, though, between being passive and content? When should I fight to change things around me and when should I just learn to live with what I have?
The Serenity Prayer says this: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Passivity is accepting everything, even things that you should work to change. Contentment is working to change what can be changed, but accepting what cannot be changed. Frustration comes from trying to change the things that cannot be changed but wisdom is what helps us sort between them.
I am learning contentment with chronic headaches and frequent migraines. I have tried all the treatments I can find that have reasonable research support and am now at a place where I need to learn to live with the situation where God has placed me. Being passive would mean giving up on having a meaningful life. I have taken an active role in my treatment plan with my doctor and my counselor. My counselor and I have worked through lots of chronic pain issues, including dealing with my schedule, making reasonable expectations, and accepting help.
Most importantly, contentment requires an active spiritual life on my part. It’s easy to sit around and be sorry for myself, but God tells me that He has a purpose for me (Jeremiah 29:13). Even when the apostle Paul was in the middle of difficulty, he was working to do God’s will. Being in pain doesn’t give me an excuse to ignore God’s plan for me; rather, it means that I need to re-evaluate what His plan is. Now that I’m at home full-time, my life’s work is focused almost completely on taking care of my home and children. I may not be as “productive” as I used to be, but God has work for me to do and I need to do it. Raising my kids (including homeschooling) requires that I take an active role in my life – not being passive about my illness, but working around it.
What about you? Are there areas of your life that you need to learn contentment – either because you are being passive or because you are fighting against things that you can’t change? How do you know the difference? How do you practice contentment?