As I drove towards home on the N-1 freeway, I realized my mistake.
In gathering up my supplies after my honoring of the Dikwankwetla ECD Forum of principals and teachers on Saturday, I failed to pull my periwinkle table cloth from the table. Before my departure, a few pieces of chocolate cake, containers of tropical and Mediterranean juice, large bottles of water, and cups and plates still set atop my table cloth. I had provided the food and drink for our festivities and hadn’t planned to bring any of it home. Thus, it was an easy oversight to have left the tablecloth behind with everything else on the table.
Should I go back and retrieve my table cloth?
Or should I just leave it there as a gift?
I had owned this well-loved table cloth for years – even before John and I married. This piece of material held memories of our boys’ infant dedications, family birthdays, Christmas celebrations, Resurrection Day delights, and many, many, many ECD gatherings of years’ past. The table cloth symbolized too-many-to-count loving, honorable, and joyous times in my life.
It would be simple to call and ask for the table cloth to be returned to me.
But, to call my friend in the Dikwankwetla ECD Forum who hosted our gathering to ask about my tablecloth, gave me pause.
Did I really need to have it back?
Could she use it?
The answer was easy.
I knew she could.
The timing of my tablecloth mistake arrived during a self-reflective season.
For the past two weeks (no exaggeration), I’ve been pondering and pondering and pondering a verse from 1 Timothy.
It’s caused me to ask this question over and over and over again:
Am I content enough?
Is being fully content a behavior I can live out in my first world, high-standard-of-living life even as I strive to be a transformed Christ-follower? Are these two ways of living even compatible?
Why am I asking these questions?
Well, two weeks ago, these 13 words stopped me in my tracks…
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
New International Version, 1 Timothy 6:8
The measure of contentment is food and clothing?
As an educator, I am more than familiar with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of need. Founder of humanistic psychology, Maslow developed a school of thought that human need and motivation begins with the physiological survival needs of air, water, food, shelter, sleep and physical essentials. Once these needs are fulfilled, then one can turn attention to the next set of needs which center on safety and security – to be free from danger. Third, is the need for belonging. These are our needs of social acceptance, social interaction and social affiliation. Fourth, as we are fulfilled by the first three rungs on this hierarchical platform, we have needs for self-esteem, self-worth, competence, appreciation, recognition and respect. Finally, we reach a place of self-actualization which addresses the holistic nature of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being. According to Maslow, we achieve different levels of contentment once each hierarchical step is reached in life.
And what about our physical needs in society? What are healthy, helpful contributions which address the needs of all? Twenty-first-century theorists indicate that basic needs not only consist of food, water, clothing, and shelter, but also education, healthcare, sanitation, and believe it or not, access to the internet! Others argue that the fundamental need of fun, life interests make life worth living.3
I wonder what the Apostle Paul would think.
Is sleep a fundamental need for contentment in life?
Is a world-class sanitation system necessary for life satisfaction?
What about access to the internet?
And my tablecloth?
What need does a periwinkle tablecloth fulfill in the hierarchy of need in my life?
Paul is clear.
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.
To offer a definition, clothing in this sense is based upon the word ‘covering.’ Covering is inclusive of our traditional basic needs of shelter, food, water, and clothing – the necessary supports of life.
But what does Paul, the exhorter of this contentment challenge, mean by this word – content?
I don’t think he had internet access in mind when he composed his letter to his friend, Timothy.
Content hails from the Greek transliterated word, arkeo. Arkeo is a verb, a word of action. It has a long list of meanings:
to be possessed with unfailing strength
to be strong
to be enough
to ward off
to be satisfied
But, let’s dive deeper. The primary root of arkeo is airo. This Greek transliterated word is also a verb – an action word – which means to raise up, to elevate, or to lift up.
Let’s pull these contentment ideas together then.
To be content is to be girded with an unfailing strength.
To be content is to be satisfied with the most basic, necessities of life; food, water, clothing and shelter.
To be content is a position of defense against the snares and temptations of want, lust, and covetousness.
To be content is to be satisfied with the most basic, necessities of life; food, water, clothing and shelter so that if there is something more – such blessings can come to the aid and assistance of others and offered with generosity.
To be content is to be elevated above the miserable, despondent, ruinous human endeavor of seeking more, more, more and never having enough, enough, enough.
Because, in all honesty, can anything – especially the internet – give us enjoyment and satisfaction for long?
So, the question I keep asking myself is this:
Am I content with food, water, clothing, and shelter?
Or am I seeking something more in a deep-down-heart-space to feel like I have enough? Or that I am enough???
Paul’s contention is simple. If God has given us the necessary supports to live, we ought to experience a profound sense of gratitude and be content in all that we have and to delight in every one of His precious gifts.
Okay, that was easy to write.
Will I embrace this contented way as a follower of Christ as Paul exhorts me?
That’s the question.
I don’t know.
I cannot say that food, water, clothing, and shelter is enough for me and that I am solely content with these God-given gifts.
I’m waiting for my South Africa ID to be issued. It’s been a four-and-a-half-month wait. I need that ID for too many things to list in this adopted country of mine.
I’m desiring a place and position for my two autistic children after they finish high school. A place where they have purpose and where they can contribute. They need that.
I’m hopeful my husband will return home safely from a 17-day ministry trip. Our family needs him home safe and sound.
Even to be here in southern Africa, we require partners and investors in our ministry work. Our mission life needs that. Without these partners, we cannot function without their assistance.
Speaking of money, our eldest son begins university very soon. We aren’t sure where all the funding is going to come from for his next four years of study. He needs that.
How do these needs juxatapose themselves with Paul’s contentment challenge:
If we have food and covering, we will be content with that.
I have more to understand and more to learn.
I’m going to dive deeper into the principle of contentment as I study more verses in the Bible.
This contentment study comes at an opportune time. I’m heading to the US for four months. No offense to my fellow Americans, but we are not well known for being content, satisfied, and living above a place of want, want, want. These will be good lessons for me as I jump continents.
And my tablecloth?
What have I decided to do?
My periwinkle table cloth been part of my life for a long, long time. When I think of the memories associated with it, I smile. My tablecloth still has a lot of life in it, too. And because I have more than enough here at home – I have food. I have water. I have clothing. I have shelter. I have even more than one table cloth – I can bless my friend with my sweet table cloth. Hopefully, she will make some beautiful memories with it now.
So, what do you think?
Are you content with these most basic necessities of food, water, clothing, and shelter?
Can you say that you have all that you need?
Let’s be thankful together.
Let’s embrace that we are sufficiently provided for – today.
And if we do have enough, let’s be generous, caring, and kind to those around us – looking out for what they need and determining how we can assist.
What do you say?
Do you have a table cloth to give?
1 McLeod, Saul. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simple Psychology https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html. 2018. Retrieved 7 Oct 2019.
2 The Internet as a Basic Necessity. Speed Matters. https://speedmatters.org/blog/archive/the-internet-as-basic-necessity. 27 Sept 2011. Retrieved 7 Oct 2019.
3 Six Fundamental Human Needs We Need to Live our Best Lives. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/05/six-fundamental-human-needs-we-need-to-meet-to-live-our-best-lives/#5f74959b344a. 27 Feb 2018. retrieved 7 Oct 2019.