How can anyone be “content in any and every situation” (as Paul writes in Philippians)? Particularly if you’re in the middle of a difficult situation? This is what Liz Carter explores in Catching Contentment.
Liz Carter is chronically ill with a life-limiting lung disease. She is frequently in pain, often house-bound. This book is an exploration of how Paul (under house-arrest) could still write (in Philippians 4:12):
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation
The book also considers how we can learn to be content in the situations we find ourselves, no matter how difficult. Carter does this by seeking to transform our understanding of contentment, which she divides into four areas: Confident, Courageous, Captivated, and Contagious Contentment. Each of the four areas is explored in four chapters.
The book is a mix of personal stories, biblical reflections, and collected wisdom from Christian writers. Carter starts each section with a poem she has written, and ends each chapter with a prayer and a series of reflections, including on particular bible passages and occasional suggestions for further reading.
Carter particularly focuses on Philippians, Romans, and the Psalms, as well as offering a very helpful reflection on the book of Ruth, focusing on the character of Naomi and how her expressions of disappointment and bitterness can help us understand and offer up to God our similar feelings.
One of Carter’s best chapters is her chapter on Courageous Brokenness, where she discusses the theology of healing, wholeness and brokenness. Carter reflects on some of the many biblical passages which don’t just assume that brokenness will remain part of our experience (in this life) but promise that God will work with us and through us in our brokenness. She particularly focuses on Paul’s thorn in the flesh and the promises in Isaiah 43.
Later in the book I particularly liked Carter’s discussion on longing as an on-going part of contentment, which she calls holy yearning. She writes (p114):
Contentment for a Christian means living in a constant state of holy yearning. It means longing for God’s kingdom to come, and to come soon.
I also liked her re-write of Paul’s “armour of God” in Ephesians 6, to make it more suitable for the chronically ill: “the dressing-gown belt of truth … the slippers of the gospel of peace” (p133).
The format of the book, reflective with fairly short sections, meant that there were times when I wanted Carter to expand on what she was saying, and also occasions when I thought she had over-simplified to make a point.
Carter finishes with a chapter on being Holy Satisfied. Reflecting again on Philippians, she writes (p186):
Paul’s passion for Christ and for following the ways of Christ led him down a path to contentement, a path of intentional striving and action.
… For him, contentment wasn’t about personal feelings, but about the assurance he found in trusting in Christ
At the book launch the band sang the worship song Your love never fails:
The wind is strong and the water’s deep
I’m not alone in these open seas
‘Cause Your love never fails
In many ways this sums up what Carter is saying in the book: we can be content in any situation becuase we have the hope that God’s love is always with us. As she puts it (p187):
contentment is based not on our wholeness, but on God’s holiness.
It is a book that is well worth reading.
Disclaimer: I received an advance digital copy of the book for review.