‘Twas the Day After Christmas…

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When I was about four years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a cotton candy machine. I saw it advertised during Saturday morning cartoons and I was infatuated with it. I could not wait for Christmas day when Santa would deliver that wonderful tool of edible sweetness.

As my mother tells the story, on Christmas morning, I flew through my presents as if I were a tornado – wrapping paper flying around as I tore open box after box looking for my “todden taddy pateen.”

But it wasn’t there.

As my mom tells it, it was a heartbreaking moment for her as she realized that the one gift that I wanted my parents failed to get me. They either didn’t know that I wanted it or could not decipher from my babblings what I so looked forward to.

So here I am many years later. Another Christmas day has come and passed. Like a little kid, each year I get excited for Christmas day, feeling a sense of anticipation and even a strange joy as I look forward to gifts given and received.

And then the next day comes, and I feel a little let down. This year, I forgot to get my wife a gift she wanted (not that she would ever complain), so I feel I missed an opportunity to show my love. My kids seem genuinely happy with their gifts, but I get a gnawing feeling that they will be jealous of all that their friends got - all those latest whiz-bang gadgets and games that teenagers want these days. Probably not, but I still get that feeling deep down inside.

And then there is the guy sitting here. I know that my gift this year was the new television we got back in the summer as a combined birthday/Christmas present. I know that getting my gift months before meant that I wouldn’t open a lot on Christmas. But the little boy inside me gets a little sad that I didn’t get something special on Christmas day.

Contentment is hard to find.

We are always yearning for more – more stuff, more significance, more accolades for our kids, more recognition at our job, more love from our family members, more, more, more.

And then I read the words of Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Philippians. He says,

“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.” (Philippians 4:11b-12)

I’d like to say that. Wouldn’t you?

Interestingly, when Paul wrote those words there was a predominant philosophy that sounds a lot like how we try to find contentment today. According to N. T. Wright,

“Many other philosophers of the time spoke of contentment. They usually, though, developed the idea in terms of self-sufficiency. You should find resources within yourself, they said, so that you could smile at the fluctuating fortunes which life threw at you.” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters)

It’s what the British call a “stiff upper lip.” It’s what I call, “Hey, get over it. Just pretend to be content even though you are disappointed. Maybe if you pretend enough you will fool yourself into thinking and feeling that you are satisfied.”

But it doesn’t work. I simply do not have the resources within myself to handle the disappointments of life.

So Paul finding contentment is kind of frustrating to me. How did he do it? The next verse explains:

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

This is the ironic truth of being a Christian. The weaker I am and the weaker I admit that I am, the stronger God can become within me (2 Corinthians 12:9). When I learn to not try so hard in my own strength and instead to rely on God’s Spirit to bring me his peace and contentment, then I am on my way. When I realize that God actually did say to me, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” I can be content with what I have because I have all that I want and need in God Himself (see Hebrews 13:5).

It is not a matter of drumming up a false sense of contentment. It is a matter of loving the presence of God in my life.

After all these years, my mom and I still reflect on the Christmas that I ruined with my lack of contentment. Then she unwrapped the present and found that I had gotten her a cotton candy machine, and we all had a good laugh.

Post by Bob Robinson, Faith Editor for The High Calling and the Executive Director of The Center to Reintegrate Faith, Life, and Vocations. Follow Reintegrate's tweets at @re_integrate and Bob's personal twitter at @Bob_Robinson_re