A good friend of mine agreed to give talks on a woman’s conference. The topic? Contentment. A few weeks before the conference, she found out she might have breast cancer. She gave the talks anyway.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

Five years ago, my son got sick. The doctor thought it was whooping cough. But instead of getting better, he started getting worse. He was home from school for weeks at a time, and then for months. He was finally diagnosed with chronic daily headaches and migraines complicated by chronic fatigue syndrome. He has learned to manage his condition, but he still suffers daily. His illness prompted me to add the topic of contentment to the teaching schedule for our women’s group.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

Just over a year ago, my husband began to experience strange symptoms. He grew weaker and weaker. Medical tests came up blank. He started vomiting, became unable to keep any food down, and was hospitalised. We found out he had a rare small bowel cancer that couldn’t be picked up in the usual scans. Two months after major surgery and at the beginning of six months of chemotherapy, I was due to give a talk on contentment. I could have cancelled, but something told me there would never be a better time.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

The apostle Paul was flogged, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked. He knew hunger, thirst, nakedness, cold, danger. He was deserted by friends, opposed by popular teachers, persecuted by his own people (2 Cor 3:11-29; 2 Tim 4:10). He worried greatly about the well-being of the churches, and there were times when he was under such pressure that he despaired of life itself (2 Cor 1:8, 11:28). He knew he would face execution for preaching the gospel (2 Tim 4:6-8). Yet he wrote these words from prison: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:2).[1]

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

For most of us, the issues aren’t usually this big. Yet they niggle away at us, year after year. The house we can’t afford to renovate. The holidays we don’t get to go on. The relationship we have to live without. The health issues that plague us. The people around us who are smarter, wealthier, more attractive. When your husband gets cancer, these things might shrink in importance, but they don’t stop bugging you. In some ways, they become more bothersome, like mosquitoes biting when you’re lying awake in pain.

If you can’t talk about contentment at a time like this, when can you?

In this ten-part series, I want to share what I’ve discovered about contentment during the last few years. What is it? How do you get it? What’s the “secret” of contentment (Phil 4:2)? How did Paul learn it? How can learn it?

As I prepared this series, God’s words about contentment dug more deeply into me than I expected, changing me not at the level of do’s and don’ts, but at the level of the heart. I pray that, as you read these posts, his word will do the same for you.

1. In what areas of your life do you struggle to be content? Have there been times when your contentment has been challenged greatly? Why?

2. What do you think the “secret” of contentment might be? If someone asked you how to become more content, what would you tell them?

[1] Biblical quotations are taken from the New International Version unless otherwise specified.

Photo: Jamie Freeman (via istockphoto)