I live in the worst town in Tennessee, according to an article I read recently. If you’re a young family looking to start fresh in a new place, apparently my community is the last place in the state you should want to go. This conclusion, of course, was based totally on statistics. The author of this article simply combined the poverty levels, the median income, education ratings, and the crime rate to determine his rankings.
I could spend this entire post ranting about how poorly written and lazy this article is. First off, the guy who wrote it lives in San Francisco, is from Massachusetts, and graduated from the University of Vermont. Do you really think he’s the expert on towns in Tennessee? I’m willing to bet he’s never actually been to my town, or even knows the first thing about it. But here’s the biggest problem with the article. You can’t base the quality of a town on numbers alone. Sure, the crime rate and median income are important factors, but no one chooses where to live or where not to live because of statistics. This is the equivalent of listing the calories on the menu at a fast food restaurant. You don’t order a Big Mac because of the nutrition facts.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story on a town. A community is more than numbers. Those numbers are actual people. I don’t really think it’s fair to label an entire town until you’ve actually been there and met the people. Until you’ve gone to the nursing home and heard stories of the town’s history. Until you’ve sat in a classroom and watched teachers pour out their lives. Until you’ve walked the neighborhoods and met the families.
As you can tell, I think that article is a bunch of hogwash (I really don’t understand the meaning behind this expression, but it’s Southern and fun to say). I love the town I live in, and I love the people who live here. But I’ve noticed something about my town. We have a problem. There is a segment of the population that just doesn’t care for where they live. In fact, they strongly dislike it and even talk down about it. But this problem isn’t unique to where I live now. I’ve witnessed this exact thing in the town I grew up in and many other places I’ve visited. It seems like every town has a group of people that are just downright negative about their community. You hear it a lot from young people. “I can’t wait to get out of here.” “I’m never coming back.” But it’s not just young people. Whenever I moved here, the most common question I got was, “Of all places, why did you move here?” I’ve had parents tell me the goal for their child is to get them out of this town. That’s the definition of success for many young people, getting away from their hometown to “somewhere better”.
But therein lies the problem. Isn’t there always somewhere better? A better part of the country, better city, better job, better house, better car, better marriage. As they say, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Or so it seems. Our entire culture is plagued by this. It’s called discontentment.
We all want to be content. We want to sit back at the end of the day, look at our lives, and experience that feeling we get after Thanksgiving lunch: total satisfaction. Contentment. Yet, those feelings never seem to last, and we’re left chasing the next step to the American Dream. We say things like, “I can’t wait until ________.” I can’t wait to move to this place, or start this job, or meet this person, or get married, or have kids, or retire. And when we finally get to that next step, we’re already dreaming of the next one. We are never really satisfied.
But what if contentment and happiness isn’t determined by our circumstances? What if the place you live, your career, your spouse, and your financial situation actually have nothing to do with your level of contentment?
I recently read about a guy who found contentment in the midst of some pretty awful circumstances. His name was Paul, and he wrote a lot of the New Testament. In a letter to the Philippian church, Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” When Paul said any and every situation, he meant it. He had experienced beatings, angry mobs, being stoned, shipwrecked, starvation, thirst, poverty, and constant persecution and ridicule. If anyone had a reason to be discontent, it was Paul. So what was the big secret he had learned?
Here is the secret in Philippians 4:13. (Contrary to how it’s often used, this is not a verse about sports.) “I can do all this through him (Jesus) who gives me strength.”
There it is. The big secret. It’s Jesus. Paul can endure any and every situation and be content because Jesus gives him strength. Paul lost a lot of things in his lifetime. He even lost his head as he died for his message about Jesus. But he knew the one thing he could never lose was Christ. So that’s why he was always content.
Contentment is found when you stop searching for it in the world, and you start resting in this simple truth: Jesus is enough. I may lose everything I have, my family, my job, my money, my friends, my dignity, and even my life. But I will never lose Christ.
So what does this have to do with the town I live in? We need to learn to echo Paul’s words. “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…including my town.” Since I have Jesus, it really doesn’t matter where I live. I can love Jesus and serve Him anywhere.
Contentment is not found in where you live but in who you live. I live in Christ, and Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, I am always content.
And once I find my contentment in Jesus, then I can truly love my community. I can see my town, not as a place where I’m stuck, but as a place God has sovereignly put me. I can praise the good in my town and strive to bless it. I can see its struggles as opportunities to serve and make an eternal difference. I can see it for what it is: home.