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Book review: Catching Contentment: How to be holy satisfied

It’s a challenge to be content despite the circumstances. Can Liz Carter’s book help?

I have to admit that, though I’m an avid reader, I would be unlikely to pick up this book in a bookshop or library if it had not been recommended. The cover artwork is uninspiring, and it is not at all clear why a single feather has been chosen to represent the book’s contents. The print on the back cover is so faint that it is difficult to read.

If, as a casual browser, I had persevered, however, I would have discovered that the book comes with commendations from several well-known Christians including author Jennifer Rees Larcombe, who describes it as the best book I have read in years”.

So, what is it about this book that inspires such enthusiasm from a number of Christian leaders? In essence Catching Contentment is an extended commentary on St Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12, where the apostle says: I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” This is a lesson that many of us take a whole lifetime to learn, but Catching Contentment book is likely to prove a useful guide along the way.

Its author, Liz Carter, is well qualified to write about Christian living in difficult circumstances, as her life has been dogged by chronic ill health including a serious lung condition. It is easy to worship God and affirm the Christian faith when you are in good health, and things are going well, but Liz has had to learn to practice her faith in very difficult circumstances when it might have been easy to give up on God altogether. 

Its author, Liz Carter, is well qualified to write about Christian living in difficult circumstances, as her life has been dogged by chronic ill health.

Early in the book, Liz describes an unfortunate experience at a Christian festival when an insensitive Christian offered to pray for her but walked away in disgust when his prayers did not seem to have made any difference to the pain she was suffering or her overall medical condition. The lesson to be learned from this sad story is that while miraculous healings do occur, there are times when there isn’t a breakthrough and patients have to contend with chronic sickness, perhaps for the whole of their lives. Miracles can happen, but maybe they are not as common as some Christians would like us to believe.

Reference is made to St Paul’s experiences with a thorn in the flesh”, as described in 2 Corinthians 12:7. We read that the apostle pleaded with God to remove this physical affliction (whatever it was) but was told that God’s grace was sufficient for him and God’s power would be made manifest in human weakness.

Many Christians, of course, have wrestled with the problem of why a loving God allows pain and suffering, and C. S. Lewis’ writings on this topic are mentioned in the book. But Liz does not consider the arguments and counter-arguments in any great detail. Could it be that there is no final answer to this question that we can grasp in our present lives and we just have to trust God however frustrating this may seem.

My own experiences have not been the same as Liz’s, but I have had some periods of ill health in the past few years, following my early retirement from the public library service, leading to two operations on my foot which have made travel difficult. I spent several very happy years as a volunteer with the Evangelical Alliance but became more or less housebound for a period while recovering from surgery. I have not been able to do many of the things that I intended to do during my retirement, and it is often difficult to recognise God’s hand in these less-than perfect circumstances.

Faith should not be purely a matter of emotions and feelings, since there are good reasons for trusting in the reliability of the New Testament’s record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Liz includes a chapter on being captivated in darkness”, where she admits that there are times when God seems very far away and all we can do is hold on to our faith in the knowledge that this phase will pass in time. Life can often bring us disappointment, but Liz argues that there are times when all you can do is scream. Scream and wail and pound your fists into God’s chest, for God stands there as your Father who loves you more than anything you can imagine”.

Liz has learned the Pauline lesson of being content in all circumstances and she gives numerous examples in her book. As one example, there is a chapter on contentment in worship. Liz’s personal preference is for exuberant charismatic worship, led by praise bands, but she has learned to appreciate other worship styles, including cathedral style worship with music provided by an organist. Arguments over the respective merits of traditional hymns and charismatic choruses have continued in many congregations, but perhaps we all need to show greater respect for approaches to worship that have proved helpful to other people. 

Liz has much to say about Christian confidence, with chapters on confidence in the basic tenets of our faith, confidence in our identity in Christ, and confidence in our hope for the future. Doubt is a necessary part of our Christian experience, but faith should not be purely a matter of emotions and feelings, since there are good reasons for trusting in the reliability of the New Testament’s record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I do not find it easy to apply the lessons provided by Liz, but her book will be helpful to many of us who have to endure less than perfect circumstances and cannot find glib and easy answers to the challenges we encounter. I hope, however, that if the book goes into a second printing, the publishers will commission a new cover design to replace the present not-very- exciting version.

For the November-December 2018 edition of idea magazine, Liz wrote an article on ethical living entitled Living ethically when it’s tough. It’s an insightful and encouraging read, so check it out.

Graham Hedges is secretary of Christians in Library and Information Services and a trustee of the Christian Book Promotion Trust. 

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