A Word on Contentment

 

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Vacations are fun, but they aren’t truly living.

It’s so easy to be discontent. Even when we get exactly what we want.

The newness fades and we start longing for the next new thing.

Me and many of my friends have been fighting the battle on discontentment lately.

Maybe we really wanted to be mothers, but mothering is proving harder than we expected.

Maybe we have big dreams but we feel too worn out to make those dreams reality.

Maybe we’re feeling unfulfilled in the daily routines and looking for fulfillment in the wrong places.

Maybe it’s all of these things.

It’s a vicious battle of the mind that doesn’t just go away overnight.

It’s potentially never-ending because there’s always something left to desire.

We will never be fully complete and satisfied unless we make a choice for contentment in our discontent. 

For instance, when I was single I longed for a husband.

When I was in school, I longed to graduate.

About a year into marriage, I longed to be pregnant.

God is good and one by one my heart’s desires were all met. But you know what? It didn’t end there. 

Once I was married, I sometimes desired to be less tied-down in one place.

Once I graduated, I sometimes felt sadness that I wasn’t developing my skills and chasing my dreams.

Once I had children, I sometimes envied the freedom (and uninterrupted sleep!) of my non-parent friends.

So you see, there is no way to be content if we’re focused only on circumstances. Contentment is a matter of the heart, not circumstances. 

I’ve recently realized that it goes a step further: There is no way to be satisfied with life until I lay down my own desires and turn my focus to helping others.

No perfect husband, no number of children, no fancy degree, no dream job, no amazing sex life, no amount of income, no expensive vacation, no beach-front property will ever fulfill us. So we should stop looking to these things.

This doesn’t mean we should completely deprive ourselves of everything, but it does mean we should stop looking for contentment in our circumstances and start trying to find it in God’s work instead.

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 4:11-13

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

1 Timothy 6:6-8

The book of Ecclesiastics repeats again and again “Everything is meaningless – a chasing after the wind.” I’ve found this to be true in my own life. I’m not trying to be depressing – it’s absolutely true!

I love exercise largely because of the endorphins and satisfaction that follows a good run or workout. But chasing this fleeting feeling won’t get me anywhere. It’s a temporary good feeling that will go away shortly afterward. It’s enough to keep my body healthy, but if I’m looking for fulfillment in my workouts then I’m going to be frustrated. The feeling never lasts and whatever is bothering me in my mind will return.

Social media can play a role in contentment too. If we’re constantly scrolling past other people’s highlights, it’s easy to get a warped sense of reality and view ourselves as failures. I just finished a no phone challenge a month ago, but I’m considering doing another media ban because I’ve already gotten back in the same habits and it’s effecting my contentment and joy. Theodore Roosevelt is credited as saying “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s so true. I’m sure my life looks perfect to some, but they don’t see the struggle that goes on behind the scenes. I’ve shared already about some of my emotions, hormones, and battle with postpartum depression. It’s invisible to all but my closest friends but it’s real and it’s a battle almost every day.

I’m better off shifting the focus from “How can I make myself feel better?” to “How can I help someone else today?” I don’t exactly know what that looks like for everyone, but I know some examples that fulfill me are hosting guests in my home, visiting friends who might be lonely, or volunteering with refugees from war-torn countries and being reminded of how easy I have it.

The truth is, I’m incredibly privileged. When I look at those who have less or who have had to overcome huge obstacles in life, I feel undeserving. I get mad at myself for being discontent in the first place. I think “I have no right to feel this way!”

But that’s how I feel sometimes. I shouldn’t discredit my feelings, rather redirect them. I don’t have to beat myself up for feeling discontent in my privileged state. What I need to do is use my privilege to bless others, not hoard it all up for myself.

When I’m having a rough day (or rough number of months!) my first tendency is to focus on myself. Maybe if I get a break, call off work, or go on a vacation things will be better…. Maybe. But maybe if I give more, pour myself out, and ask God how I can think about myself less and use my gifts to bless others, then I’ll be truly living.

The irony of contentment is that we think we’ll get it if we focus more on ourselves. If we can just meet our own needs, we’ll finally be content. But the opposite is true. Contentment comes from a life poured out. We aren’t made to work a desk job our whole lives and then retire on the beach. We’re made to live a life of giving. When we give of ourselves, our possessions, and our time -when we basically forgo our own desires for other people- that is where contentment finds us.

I haven’t arrived. I’m still a work in progress. I’m sharing this because it’s where I’m at right now and I’d like to encourage one another, not because I’ve got it all figured out.

God, show us how to be content with the basic necessities of life. Show us how to be godly and thankful with what we have, and not always chasing after the things that we think will bring us satisfaction. Help us realize that it isn’t really about us. It’s about building your kingdom in this world.

Where have you been looking for contentment in all the wrong places? How can you redirect your efforts away from yourself and find contentment and satisfaction that comes form focusing on others?

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One Comment

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  1. Wow! Really good thoughts, and a great reminder.

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