(Continuing the theme: “Things that can trip us up.”) Stacy was really smart — so smart she met with the teacher one-on-one. That was a challenge for me, who really wanted to be the smartest. I attributed it to the fact that she watched Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers. Neither of which I was fond of, but I was willing to start being a fan so I could surpass her in kindergarten. What was more difficult for me was the fact that she had beautiful long brown hair down all the way down her back. When the teacher commented on her pretty, long hair, I realized my hair was not quite right. If only I was smarter and prettier, then things would be good.
Then there was Amy with her cute clothes, country club membership and big beautiful house. I loved going to her home, and felt valued when I could go swim with her and hang out in the clubhouse. Afterwards though, my clothes did not feel as “cool” and my house was not as great. I really thought I would be happier if I had what she had.
Contentment has always been an issue for me. And if you are honest, I imagine you understand to one degree or another. It might be something different for you — a certain position, or salary, cars, a comfortable or exciting life, or followers. For all of us, contentment naturally seems to be just around the corner, or just on the other side, or in one more cookie…
Even though these situations are many years removed, I realize I still want some of the same things to fill spaces in my life. I want to be the best, be comfortable, or have certain stuff. I unknowingly hold the belief that some “thing” will finally bring fulfillment, another phase will give me peace, a different place or position will offer happiness. When I have “this” or “that,” then I will be content.
Discontentment keeps coming back around
Just when I think I have it, get to the other side, something else comes up. There is a core problem: that things other than God and His love can truly fulfill me. Therefore the search is ongoing and the heart is unsettled. This lack of contentment is so natural, so ever present, and doesn’t want to go away, well, not that easily.
You don’t have to scan the news very far to be aware of the enormous refugee problem in Europe. Now they are saying that instead of thousands, it could go into the millions — displaced, homeless families, individuals, children with nothing. The other day praying with my children I found myself thanking God for my house, clothes, the food we just ate, our family, and the security we experience. All of these things I take for granted. And I ask myself, “Why am I ever discontented?”
I have spent different times internationally and I usually come back thankful for blue skies, clean streets, English speakers and GROCERY STORES. I can read the labels, have MANY (too many) choices, shop all in one place, and do not have to carry it home. I can fill the trunk of my large car, drive home, pull in the garage, and unload it into my refrigerator. I am so very grateful for my grocery store that first trip upon my return. I take my time and relish it — not worrying about needing to be in a hurry. For about a month I am very thankful, patient and do not mind grocery shopping. But something happens after about a month. Soon I begin to complain about having to go to the store, load all the groceries. Once again I begin to really dislike the whole process.
In such a short time I change.
I realize that no matter where I am, here or there, I naturally become discontented. Even after reading the news, praying, giving thanks and being burdened by the needs “over there,” I still find myself left with my selfish heart. I need a complete shift in my focus.
Where Contentment is not Found
1. “When” this…, “then” that (things will be different)…
Contentment seems to begin with the word, “when,” or “if.”
When I am dating someone…..
When I graduate…
When I get married…
When I have kids…
When I have more money….
I have to remember: the “if” or “when” is not the whole picture — but a phantom in my mind.
I realize that often I didn’t have all the information. I could look at one small part of a person’s life but not see the whole picture. If I had … then I would be content. I was discontented, while I had no idea the personal I was comparing myself to had a family that was falling apart.
True contentment is never found in the completion to the sentence that starts with “when” or “if.”
2. Being different…
At times I have thought I must be doing something wrong. Others must be doing it right or better, since they have what I want. “If I was just different, or did things differently then maybe I would be content.”
Wishing things to be different unsettles me and does not allow room to be right where God has me. God has created me uniquely- with certain gifts and strengths. The key is learning to trust God right now and depend on Him in this moment.
Wishing things away or wishing things to be different doesn’t ever bring contentment.
3. Being happy or comfortable…
In Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit God’s, he describes that often our view of a good life is this:
The central goal of life is not to sacrifice, or deny oneself, but to be happy and feel good about yourself.
There is an allusion.
I have heard too many times, “I just want them to be happy.” (When speaking about the hopes for someone else.) It is just part of the American dream that happiness and freedom from discomfort is the key to contentment — the goal of life. I remind myself that being uncomfortable is not necessarily bad or wrong. As I enter in the pain with someone I actually am learning to love. Being uncomfortable often teaches me waiting, self-control and patience– which is foundational to love.
A key to contentment is not undoing the restlessness but trusting God and walking by faith through it.
Where Contentment is Found
Paul in the bible says there is a secret to contentment; a more accurate focus– Christ Himself. Right before He talks about this “secret” in Philippians 4, he says to dwell on certain things.
Our daily focus matters.
Contentment is found in:
1. God loves me. His love is what really matters above all else. As His child it is what anchors me. No matter what the situation or where I seem lacking, God loves me. This is really enough.
Do I believe this?
2. God is good and I can trust Him. There is much more going on than I can see. As a parent I get this. Sometimes my kids don’t like something or can’t understand my decision, but they also don’t always know all the factors.
Do I believe God can be trusted?
3. Eternal things are what really matters. An eternal perspective radically changes the fact that today matters because of the “then.”
Do I seek to live daily in light of this?
4. People need to reconciled to God through Christ. Keeping this on my radar reminds me that I have a purpose as to why I am here and it is not about my own contentment and happiness.
Is this on my radar?
The Flip Side instead of the Other Side
The flip side is this: as I keep these things in focus, remembering and living in light of these things, joy and contentment just come. I begin to think, “This is what I am made for!” As my mind and heart is transformed, the Spirt is at work in me and through me. The things here and now have less of a pull on me.
So where or when do you feel a restlessness? It is natural to feel an unsettledness– that things are not as they ought to be. But really, contentment will always seem to be just on the other side. Yet, the secret is, it is found right where we are. With a shift in my focus, joy is right now. The only thing that will fill the spaces in my life is Christ, right now, right where I am.
(For more on contentment: “The Grass is Greener until you see the weeds”)
Overflow: allowing God’s ways to touch our lives and then our lives to pour out to others
- Large dosages of God’s word are needed. I need to allow God’s word to transform my thoughts, my loves, my feelings and desires. If I am not in God’s word and meeting with Him there is little hope to transform my discontentment. As I am in the word, spending time with God, my heart begins to align with things that have a better focus.
- Confessing my discontentment, my complaining, and my comparison to God is a necessary part of shifting my focus. Turn to God and trust in His Good plan.
- Do I see people as God sees them? Do I really see that I am one who was rescued and reconciled by God’s Grace. My mission is now to point others to the Rescuer and Reconciler.