10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.
I hate hearing people quote Philippians 4:13 out of context. When you just take it as a bumper sticker slogan soundbite, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” sounds much like He-Man’s invocation “By the power of Greyskull… I HAVE THE POWER!!!”
What Paul is instead speaking of, from the comfort of his Roman prison, is the ability to be content. Through the deprivation of want to the excesses of abundance, he has learned to live with what he has with gratitude, not channel the powers of the deity into herculean feats of strength.
And yet, it cannot be underestimated that at times the ability to find contentment does indeed feel like a superpower. It feels our attention is always being brought to that which we don’t have instead of living in grateful awareness for what is in our hands. Our minds drift to our deficiencies. We are constantly looking over the fence for the greener grace. We imagine that the right position, relationship, or accomplishment will get us to the place of total satisfaction. It’s never true.
Paul is right that contentment is a Divine trait. It allows us to see each moment that we are in as a special moment. It opens us up to having gratitude for the mundane. In these instances, few and fleeting as they may be, we are filled with the richness of life and left wanting for nothing. Paul, who is most likely on the way to his own execution as he writes this, has learned that external circumstances will always change and the only real happiness in life comes from something internal. Paul is experiencing a peace that cannot be explained by his status in life, but can only be understood as the God-given realization that his life is in God’s hands and always has been.
I confess that I live very little of my life in the space of contentment. My life has been a continuous search for that external thing, rank, or person that would “complete” me. Such searching has been fruitless. It is only when I am able to be at home with my self, at peace with myself, and open hearted to the present moment that I am able to know the joy that this life has to offer. Otherwise I am anxious for a future that may never come or nostalgic for an imagined past.
Philippians 4 is a call for mindfulness, a call to breathe in and ground yourself in the present moment and to recognize that no matter the circumstances of life, life is the gift. May God give us all the strength to find that what we have and who we are is enough.