Among Sue Monk Kidd’s insights collected in her book, “When the Heart Waits,” is the advice to “court contentment.”
Contentment, a noun, is the state of being contented; satisfied. The thesaurus lists happiness as a synonym, but there is a distinction to be made. Contentment does not require all things be well and beautiful; it speaks of acceptance of what is.
When Sue Monk Kid suggests we court contentment, I picture quiet reflective time. For me, it is writing in my office painted a faint mauve. The artwork is sparse. An 8 X 11 frames a young girl looking at a full moon in a star-lit sky. A tin sign is plastered with a sassy woman puckered at camera smirking “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.” There is a sepia colored tree with a passage in a font I cannot read. There is a poster of diagrammed sentences from great lines of classic literature. There are maps of Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. It houses a curated collection of books on writing, poetry, and philosophy. It holds the promise and scribble of my works in progress.
Above each of the two desks — one with the computer and the other with just writing tablets — is blank. I walk in the room and light the desk lamps and burn an incense stick, frankincense. I set music for the mood I wish to create. I bring coffee with me, lukewarm in any mug.
This is my favorite space. It contains pictures of my girlfriends, and pictures of my sons. There is a view of the sidewalk ally adjacent to my backyard, only visible when I choose to stand and look out it.
Here, I feel content. I make time each day to be in this space, to separate myself from the hustle of family life — laundry piles clean and dirty, backpacks with half-eaten lunches and missing assignments, the day job and all that goes with it, the plans, and chores, and busyness. Apart from all of it, here, I breathe.
I cannot spend all day here. I must choose to be content in all areas of my life. I must choose to “court contentment.” In this space, I log a gratitude journal. I keep my calendars. I dream. I create. I prepare.
Here contentment is easy. Taking it with me prompts me to be okay with all of it. My hair that doesn’t cooperate, my body that doesn’t fit into the latest fashions, my children who rely on me and fumble as much as I do, my disappointments, my fears, my ambitions, my failures. My tears.
Contentment is easier in happiness. To court contentment is to find peace, to practice grace. It requires acceptance, patience, and humor. I choose to believe it is in reach, ever fleeting, but accessible with dedicated practice.