“Happy Enough”

Jun 19, 2022

The Scripture

Philippians 4:10-14

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.


The Sermon

For the next few weeks our sermon series is going to be focused on a book by Kate Bowler, “Good Enough.” We used this book for our Lenten study, and our Women’s Bible Study continued using it because we found her devotions led us to such deep conversations; conversations about real life, real struggles and real issues that we face on a daily basis. This week we will focus on one of the devotions titled: Happy Enough. To set the stage for the general scope of her book, I will begin with words Kate Bowler used at the beginning, “if you check your social media feed, the debate has been settled. Yes, you can be perfect. Other people are living beautiful, joyful, effortless lives. In fact, it’s embarrassing that you haven’t joined their ranks already.” She’s got a point here. Haven’t you experienced that yourself with what’s on Facebook? Everyone is happy, doing fun things with lots of friends.  Kate talks about our current dilemma of living under the weight of the “Perfectibility Paradigm”. Perhaps she made this word up, but it certainly fits.

She goes on to talk about drinking from the wells of our modern self-help culture in believing that everything is possible if you read the right book or attend the right seminar. You get where she’s going here don’t you? That idea that there is something more we can do to finally get it right and be PERFECT. Perfectionism argues that we are capable of anything at the right price; emotional, mental, and physical price that is. Think about how much money and effort goes into this search for perfectionism. Even with this inherent drive for perfectionism, Kate knows that life is unpredictable, and she affirms this by saying, “When life goes off the rails, we often believe we are the problem.” But the reality is that so much is out of our control. You get sick. A friend dies. The baby’s heart stops beating. The financial pressures are too much to bear. We have to learn to live inside of the life that may not be perfectible. And this place of imperfection, the true reality of our lives can lead us to a place of discontent.

Paul knew how unpredictable life was, how out of control the events were that were impacting his very life. This morning he teaches us about living life as imperfect as it is.

At the writing of this letter to the church in Philippi, Paul is in prison, most likely in a prison in Rome. He had asked for some items to be sent to him and they finally did arrive. The primary purpose of this letter was to thank them for the gifts and also to encourage them in their current situation. 

Paul has learned to be content in all situations. That’s a powerful statement to make, isn’t it? This state of being content now connects us to Kate Bowler’s reflection on “Happy Enough.” Happiness and contentment seem related, don’t they? But what is the barrier to contentment? What stops us from being content? Kate Bowler talks about how all of us live inside of an economy of desire. She’s right. We want things; maybe a bigger house, more money, or maybe we simply long for things to be different in our lives…but perfection lurks around the corner. And that definition of perfect is unique to each one of us. These desires many times have us looking beyond the present moment to the great what ifs in live…what if only this would happen, if only. Kate has a nice way of describing these desires. She says desires can feel like an endless hunger, but there is a feeling we get when we feel full. This sense of full is contentment. Discontent verses contentment. Kate recalls a story of her grandfather and her mother both finding their favorite places, one was a mineral spring in Manitou Lake and the other was a medieval stained-glass window in an old, small church. Both of their stories lead us to an understanding that this place of contentment that life frequently offers us comes in sheer moments not in months and years. It comes at times when you see a beautiful rainbow, sunset, or moon. These moments of contentment fill us and yet are unique to each one of us.

So now we come back to Paul. When we hear the words…I know how to live in plenty and in want, knowing what it is like to be hungry and well fed, we know that life had many challenges. He has experienced the imperfections in life as well as experienced his own limitations. And through it all Paul has learned to be content, content regardless of external factors. I believe it connects to Kate Bowler in her discovery that contentment is found in moments, one moment built upon another moment. What Paul was able to find, and what he teaches us today, is to look in every moment for the presence of the living God, here and now, again and again. Paul says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” You and me we can find contentment too. It won’t be found in the endless pursuit of perfection nor will it won’t be found in bookshelves filled with books on self-improvement. Contentment won’t be found in expectations that everything is possible.

No, true contentment can only be found in the moments we surrender to God and let God be our compass and our guide. Life is unpredictable, perfection is allusive, but God is here and here we can find contentment that surpasses understanding. Amen