It may seem odd that I have picked such a theme for this post. And the day before Christmas Eve, too! But I have been reading a book written in 1645 by a very wise man. The book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, is one I’ve read before. And it’s one I hope to read many more times throughout my life.
It is a small book, composed of sermons preached by Jeremiah Burroughs to his congregation in the mid-1600’s. Yet its theme, contentment, is one that has immense benefit for anyone, no matter what time period.
I highly encourage you to read it, but until you do, I hope you won’t mind if I share an excerpt from it that the children and I have talked about more than once, especially as they have grown older.
The knowledge of our own hearts.
Burroughs exhorts us that if we do not learn this, we will never learn contentment.
Why? Listen to his words:
“By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. When you are discontented you will find out the root of any discontent if you study your heart well. Many men and women are discontented, and the truth is they do not know why; they think this and the other thing is the cause. But a man or woman who knows their own heart will soon find out where the root of their discontent lies.”
He gives the example of a child who is fussing and whining. A stranger in the house could not possibly know what is the matter with the child; why he is fussing. But the nurse, or nowadays, the mother comes into the room, knows the temper and disposition of the child, and therefore knows how to calm them.
“It is just the same here: when we are strangers to our own hearts we are powerfully discontented, and do not know how to quiet ourselves, because we do not know wherein the disquiet lies, but if we are very well versed in our own hearts, when anything happens to unsettle us, we soon find out the cause of it, and so quickly become quiet.”
So “this knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition.”
And why is this helpful?… The next part is so revealing..
“A man who does not know his own heart does not think what need he has of affliction, and for that reason is uneasy, but when God comes with afflictions to the man or woman who have studied their own hearts, they can say, ‘I would not have been without this affliction for anything in the world, God has so suited this affliction to my condition, and has come in such a way that if this affliction had not come I am afraid I should have fallen into sin.’”
We have affliction. We all have had trials given to us by God, which aren’t comfortable, which stretch us, or which cause us to squirm. Sometimes I have wished just to hurry time along, so that the trial would just be over and done with. But then, I would not have learned more about my own heart.
Some of my hardest trials have been miscarriage, financial burdens, strife with friends or family, and probably the most difficult… knowing that the life of one my children has a thread more fragile than most. I have seen her at death’s door several times, helpless to do anything for her. Except pray and trust.
I don’t know what your trials are, but I am sure you’ve had them. Maybe even now. But I hope you find Burroughs’ words as comforting and helpful as I do.
What is the blessing of knowing your own heart? Listen:
“By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content.”
I can look at the trials God has given to me, and clearly see things I needed to know. Ways I needed to change. And I can see how those trials were the perfect way to bring about change, to work sanctification in me. To help me think less of myself and more of others. To help me see the ways I had been insensitive, and how I could be more considerate. To help me understand better how to be a source of comfort when I see another in a trial I have known especially well.
And of course it isn’t finished yet. There are still times I am surprised by my heart. And not especially in a gratifying way. But I am learning to be a student of my heart. I am learning what I can manage, and what I can’t. I am learning to be content. And it is a very good thing.
I pray you have a wonderful Christmas with your loved ones, and that you too are learning like I am, to be a student of your own heart. To learn what it is to be content.