Contentment nevertheless

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  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. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. (Philippians 4:10-14, ESV)

I seem to have two modes in all of this: I can pretend the registry doesn’t exist and go happily about my day, ignoring the massive injustice affecting me and my family and so many others like us, or I obsess about it, convinced that our family is in ruin and will always be so until the registry is done away with.

Both mindsets prevent productive action.

I do not need the registry declared unconstitutional to be content. I do not need to move to a state where my husband will be off a public registry to be content. I do not need the validation of my family or neighbors to be content. It’s so easy for me to think, “How can I be content when I’m being unjustly punished?” but Paul was content unjustly sitting in a prison cell. There is no injustice that can prevent my contentment, and the truth is that if I’m not content now, I wouldn’t be content if the registry didn’t exist, either, because a contentment based on external circumstances isn’t contentment.

At the same time, it is good to share one another’s troubles. It is good to have a concern for injustice. It is good to recognize that both the sex offender registry specifically and our system of mass incarceration and punitive “justice” generally are massive injustices affecting millions of people that need to be addressed. It is work that needs to be done, and those of us who feel called to do that work should do it.

But our contentment isn’t dependent upon that work coming to completion. Because, let’s face it, true justice will not come in our lifetimes, or our children’s lifetimes, or their children’s lifetimes. I hope that my life can be a small piece of that struggle, but contentment is to be found while living that struggle, not what we hope will come after it. Because there will always be struggle.

It is just so easy for me to blame my discontent on externals, both big ones like having a husband on the registry or dealing with underemployment and little ones like having an apartment-sized oven or my daughter being stubborn about potty-training. But, again, contentment based on externals is not contentment. There is nothing–NOTHING–in my circumstances right now that can keep me from being content. And there is also nothing in my contentment that should cause me to become complacent to the injustices occurring to and around me.

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