“Contentment” on the model of Sojourner Truth’s “A’n’t I A Woman?”
(First, I outlined the basic structure of Truth’s argument, then used that structure for my own. Because I do not have the drama to set up the argument, I begin a different way and wind up with a reference to it to tie everything together.)
On Deal or No Deal, now on NBC, or the old Let’s Make a Deal, a contestant comes to a suspense-filled decision, at a point at the top of the roller coaster: Will you keep what you have or cast it away for the unknown Other, the Possibility? What is behind that curtain, what’s in that case?
The one who chooses the modest thing he knows or thinks he knows holds interest for us only if what he passed up is worse, or if we crave seeing his disappointment at what he lost. But the contestant so resolved often crosses his arms against his chest or puts his hand on the case, illustrating with his body language the original meaning of “contentment”—“I’ll hold with this.”
Some say contentment comes with true grit, determination, hard work, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Yes, that satisfaction is a part of contentment, and does come with the knowledge that we’ve worked hard. But how often does that hard work miss the point of contentment and become focused on itself, on the sweat and the clenched fist? Better to hold loosely, easily, what comes of our work.
Others say contentment is just bearing up with What Is, being realistic, not expecting much. But how easily this becomes bitter cynicism, a drafty emptiness. The hands are missing something—half empty rather than enjoying the half full.
Still others suggest that we must be unselfish and not measure our contentment by what we have, even if it’s just a little, but we must give it all away. We must abase ourselves, claim to deserve nothing even to the point of turning away what is offered, in apathy. But what sterility there is in this kind of emptiness—no material for growth, or for sharing with a smile and enjoying something WITH another person.
If these misunderstandings of contentment were put together we’d have tension, emptiness, stagnation. But Spirit-led contentment brings freedom, fullness, and growth, which the fist, the empty hand, and the downturned hand don’t have. The case and the curtain hide secrets, surprises. But the Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and every knee will bow to Him, and He sees and cares for the lily and the sparrow. Godliness with contentment brings great gain. I’ll hold with this.
© Cindy Marsch