January 5, 2016
"They all ate and were satisfied. "
I've been thinking lately about complacency versus contentment. Complacency, we might say, is akin to the sin of presumption. It is linked to the idea that nothing in our lives needs to change and that our personal stability (mostly material stability) is more important than extending oneself to help others. But how is being complacent different from being content?
Here are some ways I've learned to tell them apart: from their source and from the circumstances surrounding each feeling. The source of true contentment are the things of the Lord. Whether that's reading the Bible, attending Mass, speaking about God with our friends--these things fill and satisfy us in a way that earthly things don't. The feeling of contentment springs from a deeply rooted trust that the Lord is tenderly caring for us throughout the day. It is a feeling of being held dear.
As for the circumstances surrounding each feeling, we'll often find that complacency is associated with a certain set of achievements we think will make us happy, whereas contentment is more deeply rooted. Contentment can carry us through the highs and lows of life, whereas complacency feels threatened by almost any change of circumstance. I associate complacency with anxiousness and contentment with peace.
The "satisfaction" expressed in the verse above must have been a completely new experience of contentment for these people, who were fed both with Jesus' words and with the bread and fish. A true encounter with the Lord can never leave us complacent because of its tendency to shake us from where we've been sitting comfortably and propelling us to new heights, but at the same time it can leave us with an incredible sense of peace because of the knowledge that God is with us.
May the (continuing!) Christmas season fill you with contentment, joy, and trust in the Lord.