Levir Rodrigues dos Santos is one of the men I came to admire the most. He was my wife’s dad, my father-in-law. I met him when I was only ten years-old and he made sure I stayed away from his daughter (I’m joking!). Ana and I were engaged when the day suddenly became cloudy, very cloudy: Levir was diagnosed with Leukemia. He was 48-years old. In the next few months he underwent several sessions of chemotherapy. Despite it, a bone marrow transplant was still necessary. His treatment lasted for approximately 3 years. My wife and I got married during this period, at a season when he was well enough to walk her through the church aisle.
Our first year of marriage was marked by very frequent and long visits to the hospital. Levir had to be hospitalized several times due to the consequences of his body’s different rejections to the new bone marrow. On April of 2007, to our indescribable grief, he passed away.
As I reflect back on all that occurred, I’m frankly astonished at Levir’s attitude throughout his treatment. The truth is that he never complained, gave up or lost hope. And if you ask me what amazed me the most, I guess my answer would be: his joyful contentment. People who visited Levir, including those very close to him, would not understand how he could react in such a manner. His joyful contentment was impressive, contagious, optimistic and, as he would also describe it, supernatural. Though lacking health, lacking the perspective of a long life, lacking the assurance he’d grow old with his beloved wife or that he’d see his grandchildren, he was still joyfully content all through those years.
When I use the term joyful contentment I’m not referring to a passive acceptance of reality or a lack of ambition or desires. I understand it as the gladful and thankful embracement of a condition that cannot or does not need to be modified, therefore finding satisfaction in what the circumstance is.
Levir would openly express that this virtue wasn’t his own creation, but a divine gift. He was convinced that only a relationship with God could produce such a state of being. Jeremiah Burroughs, in 1651, interestingly defined the Christian perspective on contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” According to the bible, this joyful contentment is not generated by something else, but by Someone else. It’s brought forth by the sincere trust in God’s control and love.
I think an honest observation recognizes that discontentment is preached and celebrated as a lifestyle by many today. Isn’t it true? A toxic system of discontentment is built and fed by most of the media, the market and other means. The messages go more or less like: “the mobile you bought 3 months ago is not good enough today, buy another one.” “Your body is not attractive enough; modify it.” “The person you married and committed to love years ago is not sexy anymore; have sex with somebody else.” “Twelve hours of work a day is not enough to achieve the goals, work more.” And so on.
It’s not surprising that according to research by psychologist Tim Kasser, “individuals who say that goals for money, image, and popularity are relatively important to them also report less satisfaction in life, fewer experiences of pleasant emotions, and more depression and anxiety.” Discontentment creates a vicious cycle, doesn’t it?
For this reason I believe the biblical message of joyful contentment is so relevant and necessary today. One of its writers, the apostle Paul, describes his own experience: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Paul was in prison when he wrote these words.
I will always be grateful to Levir for the extraordinary example he was for me and so many others. And honestly, his example gives me hope. It gives me hope that the one who gave him and Paul joyful contentment in the midst of enormous difficulties is able to do the same for me. And for you.