"...I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
Americans spend a lot of time and energy pursuing "the good life," and thanks to the "Mad Men" of the advertising world, we have a pretty good idea of what the good life looks like: A state-of-the-art home with all the amenities, a garage full of luxury automobiles, a closet full of designer clothes, all the latest technological gadgets, a well-diversified investment portfolio, an upwardly mobile career with cushy benefits... the list goes on and on. In a nutshell, we are told that the good life consists of feeling good, looking good, and having lots of stuff.
There's only one problem with this portrayal of the good life: It's not enough. It's never enough. It's like drinking salt water – the more you drink, the thirstier you get. And let's get real: the very purpose of advertising is to foster perpetual discontentment with the status quo. Remember that shiny new iPhone you waited hours in line for last year? It's now obsolete. Still in love with your LCD flat screen TV, or are you feeling behind the curve because you haven't joined the 3D technology bandwagon? Is the trusty family minivan a beloved symbol of family togetherness, or an embarrassing reminder that you haven't yet upgraded to an SUV replete with all the trimmings?
Despite the fact that we live in the freest country in the world – a land of unprecedented opportunities, liberties and advantages – study after study reveals that the more American's have, the less fulfilled and content we actually feel. The Thanksgiving season, then, is a good time to reflect on what truly constitutes the good life, and to look back at the original Thanksgiving story to see what it can teach us about the origins of true happiness.
Even though they were facing a hard winter in a strange place, the Pilgrims set aside time to give thanks to God for His provision in a strange new land. Their attitude was key to their happiness. In modern America, and across much of the modern developed world, we do not give thanks in the way the Pilgrims did, even on Thanksgiving. How many of us live in a spirit of gratitude, with humble appreciation for the many blessings God has given us, and how many of us dwell on the perceived shortcomings in our lives? How many of us, like Martha in the famous Bible story, stress ourselves to the max striving for the perfect home and the perfect meal to the point that we completely lose sight of the reason we've gathered to celebrate in the first place?
The pilgrims were not plagued with such frenzied spirits, and for that reason they were able to give thanks joyfully despite the many uncertainties in the road ahead. Because they were men and women of faith, they knew that contentment and security is to be found not in this material world but in spiritual union with the Savior, Jesus Christ. They knew that their future was in His hands, and with that conviction they were free to joyfully celebrate the harvest and their many blessings. They also understood that the chief end of man was to worship God and enjoy Him forever. Contentment was to be found in Christ, not in their circumstances.
When we deny our design and reject our purpose, however (as we moderns have largely done), all we are left with is the spirit of discontentment and envy that Madison Avenue profits from. When we fall prey to the myth that the good life is found in the abundance of our possessions, we are setting ourselves up for perpetual disappointment.
But there is another way. Through union with Christ, there is a joy that cannot be found in material possessions: a peace and contentment that passes all understanding. This is the promise of the Resurrection, a promise that no ad-man and no amount of stuff can ever match. As we conclude this year's Thanksgiving celebration, we should all take a step back from the frenzy and chaos of the holiday season to meditate on the blessings that will last for eternity.
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