--â€œThe world is so full of a number of things, Iâ€™m sure
we should all be as happy as kings.â€�--Robert Louis
I am currently reading a series of detective novels by
Alexander McCall Smith. His detective, Precious Ramotswe,
founder of The No. 1 Ladiesâ€™ Detective Agency, was
called â€œThe Miss Marple of Botswanaâ€� in the New York
Times Review of Books.
Though set in Africa at the edge of the vast Kalahari Desert,
small details keep reminding me of my childhood home in the
Texas Panhandle in contrast with life today. It was best
expressed by Mma Ramotsweâ€™s American client in Tears
of the Giraffe when she said,
â€œWe had found a country where the people treated one
another well, with respect, and where there were values other
than the grab, grab which prevails back home. . . . Everything
about my own country seemed so shoddy and superficial when
held up against what I saw in Africa. People suffered there,
and many of them had very little, but they had this wonderful
feeling for others.â€�
What is it about our Los Angeles culture that makes it
impossible for people to feel satisfied? Is it that the very air is
saturated with advertising? We drive to work in the morning,
surrounded by signs and billboards trying to get us to want
something we donâ€™t have. We turn on the radio or TV
and are met by a barrage of words telling us that we need this
or that to be happy or healthy or wealthy. We flip through a
magazine and there it is again.
Or is it something inside us, some competitive spirit that
prompts us to look around at others, meanly comparing what
we have with what they do? Of course, there always will be
someone with more, so we can never rest content.
In the richest country in the world, at a time when all of us see
ourselves as middle class, we are encouraged to feel like the
orphaned Oliver Twist, holding up our empty porridge bowls
and saying, â€œPlease, sir, I want some more.â€�
The Bible, on the other hand, urges us to be content. In fact, it
commands it. How many people, asked to name a command
of God, would come up with that one? But when the soldiers
asked John the Baptist what they should do, he said, â€œDonâ
€™t extort money and donâ€™t accuse people falsely--be
content with your payâ€� (Luke 3:14).
Paul used himself as an example: â€œI have learned to be
content whatever the circumstancesâ€� (Philippians 4:11). He
told Timothy, â€œGodliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take
nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be
content with thatâ€� (1 Timothy 6:6-7).
And the writer to the Hebrews says, â€œKeep your lives free
from the love of money, and be content with what you have,
because God has said, â€˜Never will I leave you; never will I
Only when we realize that we donâ€™t need more, that we
have enough, can we truly be grateful.