Liz Carter kindly sent me the manuscript of her new book. Catching Contentment which is due to be published on November 25th. I am very happy to recommend this thoughtful and timely book. I asked Liz what spurred her on to write it and this is her reply:
Why have you written a book about contentment?
We live in a world where pain is sometimes our closest companion, and we want to ask God where he is in it all. It might seem God has left us alone, kept distance from us, seems unwilling to answer the cries of our heart.
And we long to ask, ‘Why?’
Growing up with a chronic progressive lung condition, I often asked these questions of God. As often, though, I felt I shouldn’t express my distress, that instead I should be filled with joy at all times, in the best of health, healed and whole. But my reality didn’t match up to this ideal I’d somehow grasped hold of, this notion of Christian life as a delight-filled, rosy garden. My reality was of sometimes crushing, agonising pain, of words shrieked out to God, of disappointment and sadness. When I heard the word ‘contentment’ I thought that it only applied to people who had everything together in their lives, people who were mended. The broken people like me couldn’t possibly find contentment.
But when I read Paul’s words in Philippians 4, about finding the secret to being content in every situation, my thinking was turned upside down. Paul wasn’t talking about the kind of contentment which resulted from life being simple and perfect, but instead from the raw reality of living in a broken world, where suffering happens and we find courage for the journey in the presence of God.
I think that our culture is always pushing the idea of the pursuit of happiness at us. We see it in every ad, on every social media feed. We must fulfil that need inside us in any way we can. We must get that thing and then experience it, then we’ll be content. And there’s always something more around the corner to make us happier.
Church, too, can push a version of this at us. A version called wholeness. When we’re whole we’ll be content and better able to serve God. We can’t be content until we’ve reached wholeness, because Jesus said that, right? Until our sickness is healed or our depression lifted.
These two versions feed into something common to all of us: the need for something to soothe the deepest parts of us, to fill the gaping void. We are always searching for the thing.
But I think Paul was suggesting a third way. As I dug into Scripture to explore contentment, I found that it wasn’t to do with how I was feeling at any given moment, but that it was something God longs for us to reach out our hands for. I discovered a contentment which burrowed into the depths of my lived pain and gathered it up, a peace which was far beyond my comprehension. And I found that it was in the act of looking away from myself and towards Jesus that I ran headlong into this startling contentment, a ‘holy’ satisfaction. It doesn’t look like the cat who got the cream, or lounging on a beach in sunshine; it sometimes looks like brokenness, instead. It delves into a God who loves so passionately that he is willing to get into our depths with us and for us.
Who might benefit from the book?
My prayer is that the book will speak to many who are living with uncertainty, disappointment, waiting and pain in body, mind or spirit. That it will speak into lives that have been broken in any way at all, and to people who are supporting those who suffer.
‘Take a deep breath
And walk into the journey
Place my shaky hand in yours
Drag my tired feet forwards
Into the wild depths of you.’