I have been thinking about contentment quite a bit lately. Here are some various thoughts. Please feel free to comment, I am still in flux on many of these topics.
I have begun to think of contentment in this way: knowing of something better (either in quality or quantity), and even being able to get said object, but choosing to continue without it (presumably using the thing you already possess). An example of this: I know of many bikes with better frames, nicer components which I could buy if we were to contort our budget. I won’t because my current bike works just fine. Another example: We want a wagon with a third row of seats, but right now our little Civic is sufficient for all our needs.
I have, up until now, consistently thought of contentment in terms of quantity only: you are content (and not greedy) if you have just enough for yourself. But I am beginning to think of my obsession with quality as an obsession of a privileged American, certainly not an obsession reflecting a hearty contentment with the Father’s care for me.
Asceticsm (I suppose), would be to say that you ought not to have any object unless it specifically pertains to your physical sustenance: food, shelter, clothing. But even this is close to Paul’s comments in 1 Timothy 6.
1 Timothy 6:6-10
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
What would asceticism be, then? To refuse a quality of living in respect to the essential areas. Thus the ascetic would limit his intake to certain types of food which would be seen as basic, or barely sufficient. To avoid luxury, or any enjoyment of luxury seems like a better definition of asceticism.
Paul has a different idea of contentment than most of us: he is able to enjoy plenty (we might read luxury here) and scarcity. His enjoyment and luxury and desire is in Christ; thus he is not troubled by scarcity (though he would say it is a bad thing), and not wooed by luxury nor scared of it. The ascetic is afraid of enjoying luxury in order to preserve the pristine self-righteousness they have constructed. Luxury can be a gift; but as with all gifts only the bratty and entitled demand them.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The posture toward possessions seems central: the sense of entitlement is the evil of greed. Only in Christ can we avoid being brats (even though the objects we desire are very mature and grown-up).