Contentment – the name we give to that quite wonderful quality I saw in a granddad, just recently, who smilingly, said to me, with two of his grandchildren around him, and in his Lancashire way: “Ee lad, it’s grand to be owd! Now’t like it”.  That ‘simple’ exchange reminds me of Pope John Paul II, whose fifth anniversary occurred yesterday, Good Friday. In 1999, he wrote a letter to the elderly, and Section 8 contains the following paragraph:

The teaching and language of the Bible present old age as a “favourable time” for bringing life to its fulfilment and, in God’s plan for each person, as a time when everything comes together and enables us better to grasp life’s meaning and to attain “wisdom of heart”. “Length of days is not what makes age honourable,”, observes the Book of Wisdom, “understanding, this is grey hairs, untarnished life, this is ripe old age.” (4:8-9). Old age is the final stage of human maturity and a sign of God’s blessing.


Pope John Paul II

I remember watching a video of this Pope as an old and contented man, and yes, with Parkinson’s disease, and a shaky voice! The Pope was greeting a group of Bishops, and as he was leaving, he turned back to greet them with a smile. He smiled and twirled his walking stick as though shouting with joy: “Hey Ho!” while bidding farewell. All this gives me great encouragement, as I reflect that God has led me, faithfully, through the passage of time – this year into the later sixties – always with the feeling that there are marvellous things to look forward to – with hope.

Jesus never experienced old age. He was ‘cut off’ in the ‘prime of life’, but St. John puts words into his mouth that are nevertheless a sign of quiet contentment: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4).  Jesus did not need to live to old age, because he had completed the task he came to perform, whilst still a young man – a life of some thirty-odd years, only three of which are chronicled to any extent.

A prisoner I know, one who is new to prison life, reinforces my thinking on this subject.  Having committed an offence that has taken away his liberty, he appears, in certain ways, to be unlike other prisoners, largely because he, too, exhibits a special contentment; he speaks, easily, of his life and family, and with a ‘twinkle’ in his eye. He is an ‘older’ young man, and he, too, teaches me what contentment is, even from the confines of his prison.

Certainly, contentment is not the sole preserve of the elderly; however, I think it may be more difficult to achieve by those in their earlier stages of life; it may be that it is harder for them to be able to say with conviction: “This is my life and I am happy and content with it,” given the many and varied challenges they face.  Children – still growing in wisdom and knowledge – are all too often taken by rebelliousness, and believe they have a revolution to win.  Often, in their ‘teens’  they think they know quite a lot, whereas in later life they may come to realise how little they know, and just how much they still have to learn.   I wonder how many husbands and wives – partners if you like – ask themselves the question, “Is this the same person I married / partnered?”, and, “Where has he, or she, gone?” All too often money, ambitions, careers take over and then, where is contentment? Illnesses and addictions of one form or another – alcohol, drugs, etc – all seem to mitigate against that feeling of being ‘happy’ with one’s life – one’s lot – and contentment may then seem very far away – unassailable – unachievable!

Giving – rather than taking all the time – self-discipline, and realistic assessment of self, come more easily, I suspect, to those with a few decades ‘under their belt’, once life that has been lived to the full –  but even then, it is not automatic. To be able to ‘step back’ from the situation I am in, and see it in an objective and positive light, is what is required – not easy, if my thinking is prejudiced by disordered emotions, or unrealistic dreams of self. The experiences of those in ‘older youth’ or in ‘young middle age’ are not usually helpful to the achievement of that contentment which arises out of wisdom and true understanding. Indeed, for many of us, some of our well known – well used – proverbs ring true: “The person who never made a mistake never made anything,” or “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.”  Our mistakes, if we learn from them, very often show us the way to wise contentment.

Yesterday, Good Friday, thoughts and emotions surrounding Jesus’ passion and death, rise very easily to the surface.  A human being, like us, and out of love for us,  He completed the work his Father gave him to do; in the process,  He lost his peace and contentment in the agony of his suffering and death. He lost the joy of his union with God – suffering on the Cross – so that we may be free from anger, and able to find peaceful contentment, in our union with God. But, after his Resurrection, he entered into a perfection of contented peace – a peace and contentment that will be ours, if we abide in Him. We await, with ‘bated breath’ during this wonderful ‘hiatus’ that is Holy Saturday, for the victory of Jesus.  Will it happen again, just as last year? This is our hope, and “.. .. hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom 5; 5).

Would it not, indeed, be a very worthwhile ideal – the achievement of that peaceful contentment as enjoyed by ‘our’ granddad, with whom we began; should we be able to, it would give glory to God; it would be to our own good and the good of many who remain an essential part of our lives?