Have you ever read a book that when you finished reading it, you felt like you should immediately start again at the beginning to try to get the thing ingrained in your thinking? That’s the sort of book Contentment by Richard A. Swenson, M.D., is to me. I had heard of Swenson back years ago at a homeschool conference when a speaker referred over and over again to his book Margin. I have Margin somewhere around here, but I’ve never read it. For some reason one day I clicked over to the Simply Charlotte Mason blog at a very
serendipitous Providential time and read this post in which Contentment is referenced. Something (or Someone) made me click through right then and buy a copy for my Kindle. I don’t usually consider books like this one page-turners, but this one was that for me. I felt like I was just taking it all in as quickly as I possibly could–like I wanted to write it all down and learn it by heart.
Here’s the problem: I have an ungrateful heart. Yes, I do. I don’t see the things I should see, and I see all the things I shouldn’t. I focus on the things I don’t have instead of on the things I do. I doubt that God’s in control of my situation. I lust after the wrong things. Swenson‘s book pulled me up short and made me really examine myself, and obviously, I came up wanting. For several days while reading it, I found myself reexamining my life through a new lens, and what I found is that things are really pretty good. Actually, they’re more than pretty good–because I have Jesus, and He’s enough.
I know I will in no way do this book justice by sharing my halting thoughts about it. In bullet points, here are just a few of the things I love about it:
- It’s interesting. It’s more than just a devotional exercise; Swenson uses sociological studies, history, and personal anecdotes to make his case for contentment.
- It’s chock full of wonderful, thought-provoking, and convicting quotations from the sages of church and secular history. I LOVE a succinct quote (shoot–I even love long, rambling quotes!), and Swenson has collected and expounded on what must be the best on the subject.
- Swenson gives one of the best discussions on the Beatitudes I’ve ever read (or heard). Here’s a snippet from it:
In our first reading of the Beatitudes, we think how marvelous it is that Jesus would speak such kind and encouraging words to the suffering, misunderstood, the passed-over [. . .]
On the second reading, after our magnanimity has been expressed and we feel better about ourselves, we breathe a sigh of relief that at least we are not included in this lineup. What a load of grief Jesus is addressing here–glad that’s not me. Can you imagine this being your list of goals to accomplish in the next decade?
On third reading, we can see that Jesus is speaking to us after all. If we are his disciples, living according to His words and examples, these are the things we can look forward to. This list is precisely what the normal Christian life looks like in its matured state, which is why Carl F. Henry wrote, “Jesus clothes the beatitudes with His own life.”
On fourth reading, we wonder how Jesus is going to pull this off. [. . .]
Answer: The Beatitudes came to life as soon as Jesus uttered them. His words became active the minute they escaped His mouth. They are now the law of eternity. If the first half of the verse describes us, the second half is automatic. He is the power behind these promises, and Jesus does not make idle promises. Everything He says He will do, He does. Everything He says will happen, happens. In fulfilling His promises in the Beatitudes, He brings to bear the same power that created the universe, redeemed it, sustains it, and will judge it.
- Swenson reminds me how worldly my thinking is and my need of sanctification. (Ephesians 5:26 and Romans 12:2)
- He also reminds me of what truly matters in this life.
The timing of my reading this book was really Providential, too. As our homeschool year has started, I’ve realized just how hard what I’m doing really is. Homeschooling two elementary students, wrangling a busy three year old boy, and caring for a five month old infant isn’t just a walk in the park. In order to do this well, I must be content in this place God has called me to. It’s what I’m striving for.
Anyway. This book is excellent. I’d consider it a must-read if you want to grow more like Jesus. Highly, Highly Recommended. (NavPress, 2013)