“I’m satisfied with just a cottage below, a little silver and a little gold…”
As we sung this song in the church I felt the uneasiness beginning to creep over me. I hadn’t really thought about the lyrics so much.
“I don’t have a cottage,” I thought to myself, “How can I be satisfied without even having a cottage?”
I looked around at all the people around me. This song did not fit me and it certainly did not fit those around me. A lot of them had very nice houses and a lot of money. Here they were singing that they were satisfied with their little cottages and were often “like the prophet, [their] pillow a stone!”
I doubt any of these people had slept with their head on a stone once in their lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand completely. Up until my move to Singapore, being discontent and worrying about what others had was never really a problem for me. I had never really been one to covet others’ nice cars, wads of cash, or fancy houses. I owned an old, run down car, shopped for my clothes second-hand, and lived in a house that was so old that it had a toilet outside.
And I was satisfied. I was satisfied with my cottage, little silver and little gold.
But then I came to Singapore… and everything changed. I went from a happily middle class standard of living to a lower class living standard. My whole social standing changed, and I was not happy with it. I had no cottage, gold, or silver to be satisfied with.
Here are some of the realities I was faced with after my move:
- Cars in Singapore cost over US$100,000 for a period 10 years, so we couldn’t even think about having one. Ever. I have to take public transport wherever I go, which I have always despised.
- Houses are so expensive we couldn’t even think of owning one. Ever.
- Renting a house is also expensive, and almost everyone lives in pigeon-hole apartments, including us. This means no backyard, tiny kitchens, and no spare rooms.
- Groceries are expensive, or at least the ones that I had become accustomed to consuming. Don’t even think about consuming copious amounts of baby spinach ($60 a kilo/2.2 pounds) or Silk almond milk ($15 a litre).
- 1 in 6 Singaporeans is a millionaire, and can afford everything that I can’t have.
I found myself beginning to look at the people around me and wishing that I had what they had. If only I had a car. If only we could afford a house. If only I could live somewhere where I could have all the things I am used to having. If only I could afford to eat the way I want to. All the things I had always felt were just a part of life became untouchable items of luxury.
It became even harder when I visited the US and I heard people there complain about their small houses, old cars and difficult way of living. When I would tell them about our life in Singapore they would say, “Oh, I don’t know how you do it, I could never live like that!”
I became discontent, and here was every one I knew and this song telling me that there was no way (or at least that it was extremely difficult) for me to be satisfied with my way of life. Woe was me.
So, what is there to do when I don’t have a cottage, silver, or gold, and therefore can never be satisfied?
Okay, so I know there is such a thing as poetic license, and I know what the song is trying to say–you can interpret it how you will and sing it to your heart’s content!–but my personal belief is that it falls short.
I want you to reflect with me upon the words of this song and really examine yourself:
- Am I really satisfied with what I have?
- What if my cottage, silver and gold were taken away? Would I still be satisfied?
- What if I don’t even have a simple dwelling place or some gold and silver to call my own to begin with?
In contrast to this satisfaction that is sung about, I hear many complaining about how their houses are cramped and don’t have enough rooms, their salary and how it isn’t enough, or their gizmos and gadgets that are outdated; when in fact we have a lot more than the majority of the world could even dream of having.
What is wrong with our attitudes? Could it be that we have bought into this “Mansions over the Hilltop” mentality?
Contentment can be a difficult thing to gain (especially in this world that tells you constantly that you can’t be satisfied–just look at the advertising channel!), but having it makes our Christian life so much easier. God talks so much about contentment in His word that it just cannot be ignored. Paul particularly spoke out loudly regarding contentment, and on one occasion wrote to the young man Timothy:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV).
Content? With just food and clothing? How is this even possible? I need a nice home, nice food and nice clothing and everything else that every one else has, right? How can I be content with what I have, even when it is so much less than every one else around me?
Paul learnt how to be content whether he had a lot or everything was taken away from him.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13, ESV).
How am I learning to be content no matter what my situation?
- I try not to think about what others have that I don’t. What others have means nothing to me. I cannot control it, I have no say over how it is used, and it does no good for me to wish I had it. Covetousness has always been a problem and has always been condemned by the Lord (Exodus 20:17; Luke 12:15). Covetousness is a form of idolatry, and gets in the way of our service and worship towards God (Colossians 3:5).
- I don’t think about what I could have were I in another situation. It does me little good to dwell upon what I could have were I living in the US or Australia. I could own a nice house, have a nice car and shop organically (oh my, the thought thrills me!), but we are needed here. To think about what I could have only leads to misery and self-pity. So what do I do? I don’t look at kitchen makeovers on Pinterest or look at property magazines. I try to make the best of what I do have, and do things a new way – rather than looking at how my friends in America and Australia do things. Maybe one day I can look without growing discontent; but for now, this has helped tremendously.
- I concentrate on the things I do have. A blessings journal is something that has been very beneficial to me when I have been going through a rough time. The idea is simple: every night I wrote down 5 unexpected blessings from the day. They can be anything, small or great. This not only helps me to see what I have, but also helps me to look for the little positive things in every day, and really obey the command to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
- I give thanks for the things I do have. Recognizing that all good gifts come from God (James 1:17) and that they nothing is really mine anyway (1 Timothy 6:7), goes a long way to helping you to breed contentment in your life. Give the glory to the One who gave you what you have, and realize that He is in control of all things.
- I pray that I can use what I do have to bring glory to God. I have control only over what I have, and no matter how little that is, I can use it to give glory to God and benefit others. No matter who I am or what I have, I have an obligation to use what I have to benefit others (Matthew 25:33-40). We are rich, and the rich are told to give (1 Timothy 6:17, 18).
- I think about those that don’t have even what I have. We went to Vietnam recently, and as I looked around at the situation there I said to my husband, “Don’t ever let me complain about my situation in life again.” There are so many people who would love to have what you have. Are you saying that those people can’t be content? Obviously not. If they can be content with what they have, then you certainly can be.
- I try to keep myself busy. When you are busy doing good you don’t have time to think about how “bad” things are! It’s that simple. 🙂
– – – – – –
Needless to say, I don’t care much for the words of the song “Mansions Over the Hilltop” anymore. My husband even calls this “the greedy song,” as it goes on to say:
“…but in that city, where the ransomed will shine,
I want a gold one, that’s silver lined!”
To me at least, it sounds very much to me like I’m saying, “Hey God! If you give me a little here I will be satisfied, but when I’m done here I want a gold one that is silver lined, you hear me!?”
Do I really have the right to demand a fancy mansion? And will this be what I really want when I get to see the Lord and Creator of this Universe.
In Revelation I see a completely different picture:
“Day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” giv[ing] glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:10, 11).
I doubt very much that I will be demanding mansion, or even thinking of one. I will be casting down my crown, throwing myself at Jesus’ feet, and praising Him for giving me all things good.
Is a golden, silver-lined mansion even something that I am looking forward to? No, not really. Freedom from pain and trouble? Yes. Freedom from the endless battle over sin? Yes. Seeing my Lord and Saviour face-to-face? Oh yes. But a golden, silver-lined mansion? I’ve never really gone for things that gaudy myself.
Besides, I’m not even sure this is something I can look forward to. Oh, I’m sure it will be beautiful there. Beautiful beyond imagination and comprehension. I’m not going to demand a mansion though, I am going to look forward to a room in the Father’s house. The original Greek text from the verse in question (John 14:1-3) does not read “mansions” but rather “rooms.” Sharing a house with my heavenly Father forever? That’s certainly something I can look forward to.
All I know is that it is going to be wonderful, and it is not because of any cottage, silver, gold, or prospective mansions that I can be content in any situation; but because of His wonderful promises, infinite power, and boundless grace.
– – – – –
Though people and “Mansions Over the Hilltop” may say that I can never be satisfied in Singapore because I have no cottage – that’s okay. I’m satisfied with that.
Are you satisfied with what you have?
Would you be satisfied with less?
Are you looking for a mansion — or is your focus to give all the glory to the One who gave you all things?