Contentment and aspiration

This adorable visitor was content to rest on our deck railing for a few minutes. Yorktown, April 2015

This adorable visitor was content to rest with us one recent sunny morning.
Our back yard in Yorktown, Virginia, April 2015

“We are not to make the ideas of contentment and aspiration quarrel, for God made them fast friends. A man may aspire, and yet be quite content until it is time to raise; and both flying and resting are but parts of one contentment.”Henry Ward Beecher

I think I understand what Beecher was getting at far more now than I would have twenty years ago.  Admittedly, there’s a fine line between contentment and passive acceptance of the status quo, but we all have known people who manage to walk that line gracefully.

Too often, high ideals and lofty goals are coupled with impatience, frustration, and egocentric pride.  It’s fine for us to want to make things better, but if we catch ourselves thinking we are the only ones who can do it right, that’s a warning flag.  If we expect instant results, or are continually criticizing or undermining other people’s efforts, we may be passing from aspiration to envy or blind ambition.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain,” Paul tells Timothy, and anyone who knows the balm of being truly contented will surely agree.  There was a time when I might have mistaken contentment for timidity, apathy or even a wee bit of laziness.  Now the word calls to mind more admirable traits: faith, patience, humility, self-control and joy.

Most people, it seems, tend toward one side or the other when it comes to ambition and contentment.  No matter which side of the fence you may find yourself occupying, I wish you a lifetime of the delights of both flying and resting — and the wisdom to know when to do which.



  1. Nice article. Good subject. Requires proper understanding and do justice in reality.

    • Thank you, lvsrao. It is nice to hear from you. I hope 2015 is bringing you many blessings!

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    Again, you’ve struck an important note for me – wisdom to know when to do which! I over-extended myself last week and now I have a slight cold. Fortunately, I can slow down again, now that my taxes are done, the Sunday anthem (in French!) has been sung, and photos are framed for the art show on Thursday.
    Wishing you a wonderful week of balance!

    • Susan, parlez-vous Francais? I tell myself that if I could somehow live in France for 6 months, I’d be fluent, but as it is, I must content myself with what I remember from high school and college. Quelle chanson? I do the same thing you do, over-extend and then end up sick or below par. I hope you are managing to slow down and enjoy life at a more leisurely pace. I’m hoping to do the same soon, though I’m not there quite yet. Have a great week! À bientôt!

  3. bobmielke

    “but if we catch ourselves thinking we are the only ones who can do it right, that’s a warning flag”. Oh my, this describes my best friend to a tee. He can’t delegate authority and feels he is the only one who can get the job done. Most people are lazy and therefore prey on folks like my friend, overburdening them until they burn out. 😦

    • Bob, I never thought of that, but I do think others often take advantage of the perfectionist’s drive and determination to do things his or her own way. Come to think of it, I must admit I sometimes take advantage of Jeff in that way, though I don’t intend to. Long ago he started doing the laundry simply because he couldn’t stand to let it pile up as long as I do. Now he NEVER wants me to do it, and sometimes I sneak in a load or two while he’s gone to work. As hard as it is to believe, he is still doing the laundry, in spite of all he’s been through. He says he wants to keep up his normal routine as much and as often as he can. I’m torn between enjoying the respite his discipline gives me, and feeling guilty about it. Anyway, good point about the less-motivated among us, and how that often complements the perfectionist’s reluctance to delegate some things. I suppose it can work in a good way if both people have different areas they are a perfectionist about. I won’t let Jeff EVER do the dishes, and that’s always been fine with him. 😀

      • bobmielke

        There’s a funny old saying that if you want the windows cleaner just complain about your wife’s effort and you’ll be doing them tomorrow. 🙂

        • Hee-hee, I love it!

  4. Rene

    This is an excellent post Julia! Thank you for the insight.

    • Thank you Rene! I’m so happy you liked it.

  5. Julia, thank goodness I’ve settled into contentment, although it hasn’t always been such. Many years ago, I decided to ease up on my expectations, not only of myself but others. “There’s just no pleasing you!” The words still STING but they were words of wisdom for me to digest. I’m glad to be at a good place now. Joy truly does come in the morning! 😍

    • WOW Sheila, this is maybe the most hope-inspiring thing I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t realize that you were ever that way (as I still am, about far too many things). Maybe there’s hope for me! I’m gradually learning the wisdom, but as my friend Ashleigh Brilliant has said, “I’m afraid I’m getting older much faster than I’m getting wiser.” 🙂 I do rely on that “joy in the morning,” and I find its solace ever more important as I age. Thanks for being here, my faithful friend!

      • Julia, just when I think I’ve come a long way…. actually, maybe I have. We came home from WT yesterday, everything was fine, except a red Solo cup across the street in their yard. This morning, Bill picked it up as he was leaving for work and left it in a flower pot outside our gate knowing that I would “get it”! Why do I tell you this? We smile about the same things! Bill told me this evening that he was sure I was fixating on it. 😉 Has Jeff ever used that term? 😬 Sheila

        • Sheila, we are fixated on the word “fixate” around here! 😀 Jeff and I recently watched the first episode of “Monk” (which we loved) and I bet I said “Who does that remind you of?” about ten times. The part where he asks her if she heard the click when she turned the oven off was just too familiar to be true! But reality has a strange way of forcing us to let go of our overly-tight hold on most of our obsessions. “Most” being the operative word. Just don’t go near my dishwasher!! 😀

          • Rene

            Monk was one of my favorite shows for awhile (the off and on times we would have the cable extras). I was sorry they changed the format after the first season, but I still enjoyed Tony Shalhoub’s performance & the contrast between Sharona and Natalie.

            • We have only ever seen the first one, but I want to see more of them. I thought I would die laughing when he was in the sewer trying to save Sharona’s life and he stopped to straighten out that crooked sign!! I agree that Shalhoub did a great job in a role that I think would be quite hard to play so convincingly.

  6. Lovely words, Julia. And now that I’ve had the chance to see your part of the world, it all seems that much more real. Hugs dear one.

    • Thank you Alys! I hope you will someday see the other part of my world (southeastern Virginia) — since there really is no northwestern Virginia to speak of, that would mean you had pretty much covered the entire state! 😀 Hugs right back to you as I bask in (or binge on) the lovely treats you left behind for me.

  7. Julia, hello. Interesting subject…bird watching. 🙂

    • Hi Merry! Yes, I hope to become better acquainted with bird watching. I went online to find out whether the “new” calls we were hearing at our York County home belonged to the Cardinals who seem to have moved into our Ligustrum hedge. I was delighted to hear the exact song online that I had been hearing in real life!

  8. HarryS

    From time to time I recall a resolve I made somewhere around the grand turning point of my life that I would pay attention to the wisdom of the ages.
    So what are the ages?
    What is the age?
    Does it extend from way back then ‘til the present moment?
    Is the wisdom of the ages contained in all recorded history including but not exclusive to our Holy Scriptures and does this include the present time?
    We know that Winnie the Pooh and his friend Piglet were strolling along one day and Winnie asked Piglet, “What day is this?” Innocent Piglet replied, “This is today”.
    Pooh said, “That’s my favorite day!”

    Is this an example of wisdom of the ages?
    I say amen!
    Again I say amen

    • Harry, Amen from this corner! There is abundant wisdom in many forms of great literature, including that of Pooh and Piglet, and also in other traditions, folk stories, art and music. We are without excuse if we choose to remain ignorant of these treasures.

  9. “there really is no northwestern Virginia to speak of” – – that describes the niche providing my opportunity for an historical novel. ( please let Carlyle read this comment before you delete it.)

    • I am hoping I didn’t offend anyone with that comment — I was referring to the lopsided-triangle shape of Virginia, which leaves it with three corners rather than four, and usually the top half of the state is simply called “Northern Virginia” or NoVa. It may partly be an attempt to avoid the inevitable confusion that would result from west Virginia vs. West Virginia. In any case, the entire state is lovely and I didn’t mean to slight any part of it by saying there was no northwestern part of the state. Speaking of history, it would be interesting to write about how the diamond-shaped District of Columbia lost its diamond shape on the Virginia side…I didn’t realize until Drew told me, that it was not always so…

      • Yes, West Virginia did not exist, as a state, prior to the American Civil War. The tensions of the residents of western Virginia – those who lived west of the Allegheny Mountains – are epitomized by William Rosecrans (who became a Union general) and the original George S. Patton ( whose grandson was the famous WWII general). The two nineteenth century Virginians worked at the same Coal River Navigation Company, and yet Patton became a Confederate, and the mortal enemy of Rosecrans – true stuff.

        • Yes, probably no state had more such divisions of friends and family than Virginia did, although the strife of the Civil War extended far beyond the deep south. It was many years before I knew of the turmoil in “bloody Kansas,” for example, and what little I know about it now I learned from a novel. I know almost nothing of 19th century American history; really mostly details I have picked up from Drew here and there. I only recently heard from Drew a bit of the history behind Lee’s Arlington, though I had seen it from a distance many times, and K and I toured it briefly while she was here. It was the first time I had ever been inside it. It’s really hard to imagine the catastrophic tragedies and losses of that era, the repercussions of which are with us still. War is always hell, but it seems especially egregious when it tears a country apart from the inside out. I’d like to think the USA learned a cruel lesson that won’t need to be repeated, but sometimes the political acrimony is such that I wonder.

          • Anon E. Moose

            Yes, Julia, Santayana’s warning about those doomed to repeat history is sobering – but, of course, that is not the purpose of this blog. Thanks for humoring me.

  10. Rene

    I think California must have gotten the extra corner. According to one Huell Howser special, we have 5!

    • That sounds right to me — was the 5th corner near Vandenberg AFB and Lompoc, which is almost due west of Santa Barbara, also on the coast?

  11. Amen. A thin line sometimes. I’m usually crosschecking myself to ensure I’m in neither end of the spectrum. I have found contentment to be a place; a place of deep gratitude. In that place unrest disappears and I find balance. i needed this reminder today. Thanks!

    • I agree that contentment is “a place of deep gratitude.” It’s almost impossible for me to stay agitated and frustrated about what I don’t have or haven’t achieved, when I remember how many reasons I have to feel thankful. I am happy this was a reminder for you – I need these reminders frequently myself! Thanks for being here.

  12. I love that quote; it mirrors one of my own favourites: “Be content, but not satisfied”.

    • That’s a very good way of putting it. It leave no room for becoming complacent, lethargic or arrogant.

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