Colossians 3:18-4:1, a controversial passage in our modern times, invites people of various circumstances to be content in their current situations. Wives, husbands, children, parents, even slaves, should accept their situations and approach their tasks as if they are serving Christ himself. Before we attack that line of thinking as outdated paternalism or encouraging oppression, maybe it’s worth exploring for some wisdom. Is Paul condoning abuse? Is Paul saying women are inferior? Is Paul saying that’s it’s okay to have slaves? Approaching the passage with those questions takes us far from what could be helpful to us. If it helps you read further, I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think Paul is saying that it’s okay to treat others as inferior. Slavery is wrong, period. Abuse is never justified. Mutually affirming relationships are what we should be striving for. No one should be subject to anyone else.
With that gospel truth, let’s move on to the matter of contentment. Whatever situation I am in, I simply have to deal with it, right? If my husband is a drunk, it doesn’t do much good to pretend he’s not. If my wife is a substance abuser, I need to admit that. If I am broke and can’t pay my rent, that’s what I have to face today. If the doctor says I have cancer, then all that goes with that diagnosis is now my world.
Being somewhere and wishing I was somewhere else is natural but eventually I have to face reality. I can wish for something different all day long but the situation is mine to accept and deal with. I can stand in the rain and complain all I want about being wet. But it probably makes more sense to get an umbrella and do the best I can. We can see life as cruel, as continuing to heap upon us what we least desire. Or we can recognize how gentle life really is. Our situations continue to be what they are until we come to grips with them. We take pain and discomfort so personally. Accepting life as it is today helps us detach and see that there is no conspiracy to make me miserable. Things are just hard sometimes. Accepting that today is hard is not consigning tomorrow to the same pain. It’s just admitting what is there.
When Paul talks about being content, he’s not saying that we deserve pain or abuse. He’s just saying that all of us are where we are. Trying to be somewhere else isn’t effective. It certainly helps to imagine how things could be improved but denying what is just keeps hardship around longer.
Acceptance of what is allows us then to see that things are always changing. Whatever pain I am in is changing. There’s a natural healing in life that takes things forward in a progression. Things may get worse before they get better but they usually get better. That’s a basic mystical truth about life which the crucifixion and resurrection allow us to see, if we will.
Be content. That may sound like I should enjoy whatever I am getting. Really, though, it’s more a recognition that God is at work in the world and that misery is being transformed. Be content, not with today’s misery but with a life force which makes things better over time. Be content, not with debilitating pain but with God’s grace which always promises healing and growth.
Contentment is acceptance of what is while being hopeful about what will come. Contentment isn’t grim resignation. It’s faithful obedience which leads to life’s joy. Be content. Where you are is where you will find God.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.