I popped into a Happy Mart convenience store (a Malaysian version of 7-Eleven) to buy some parking coupons. The staff on duty was a young Malay girl wearing a headscarf. I had to wait for a while because she was exchanging messages with someone on her smartphone. When she finally attended to me I teased her by suggesting that she was texting her boyfriend. She laughed and said that she was married and had been messaging her husband. She then went on to tell me that they had a one-year-old son and one more was on the way. She showed me her bump and said the second one was four months away.

I asked her who took care of the child when she and her husband were at work? (The conversation was in Malay.) Perhaps one of the grandparents cared for her son while they were at work. She said no, it wasn’t right to tax their parents. This was the arrangement: Her husband worked at night and spent the day taking care of their child. She worked in the day and would take care of their son at night when her husband was at work. She showed me pictures of her family on her phone. The boy was cute and I told her so. I also commended her and her husband for taking care of their child. I said that children need fathers and mothers and not all men were willing to care for their children. Not all women for that matter.

I left the shop encouraged by the girl at the counter and her story. I didn’t sense any regret or frustration. I only sensed joy and a palpable love for her family. I understood that their situation was not ideal. I also understood that many couples had to be two-career couples in the present Malaysian economy. But I didn’t sense any self-pity or hear any complaining about their lot. I wasn’t sure I would have been so joyful if I were in their shoes. I’m sure I wouldn’t. I have seen that, often, those who have less are more thankful for what they have. The middle class and those even more fortunate in the consumer society where most of us live, are more often aware of what they don’t have rather than what they have, and are more unhappy, complaining and negative.

Paul tells us that contentment is not automatic. It is something we have to learn.

. . . I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. (Philippians 45:11b–13 NIV)

I often think I am still in kindergarten in the school of contentment. Here is a worthy goal for me in 2018, to take more seriously the need to learn contentment.

I am grateful that Paul also tells us that learning contentment is not something we struggle to learn on our own. Paul is able to be content because of the strength that God gives. So to embark on a course in contentment will require our walking closer with the Lord, which is something we should be doing anyway.

I am not sure what was the source of contentment for the girl at the Happy Mart counter. I am glad that I met her and that I met her early in the year. The Lord used that encounter to speak to me.