“If only I was married…”, “If only I made more money…” “If only I had her body…” “If only it was cooler…” “If only it was warmer…”
It’s human nature – we’re always wishing, wanting and whining. Especially in this day and age, we never have to look far to see something that someone else has, and instantly a little void is carved out from within our deepest being.
Discontentment rears its ugly head at birth: I remember how quickly after each of my babies were born that they quite literally screamed out with the unmistakable cry of, “If only…I HAD FOOD!!!” With that first cry begins the sick lifestyle of discontent with all of us: once that first hunger is temporarily satisfied, our sinful human nature dangles carrot after carrot of the next, “if only…” in front of our eyes.
Discontentment is something the world tells us is good: If you see something you want, go for it! Society sends a message that we should get out of relationships and situations that are difficult or not personally fulfilling. The media tells us to make the pursuit of pleasure and happiness our top priority. Magazines in grocery check-outs tell us that we should be beautiful and look like the airbrushed figures of perfection on their covers. Parents (even well-meaning Christian moms and dads) climb through ridiculous hoops to make sure our little snowflakes are always happy and immediately gratified by giving in to the never ending requests and demands. Single ladies everywhere check out the eligible guys thinking, “If only I was married…” Married women look at their friends’ husbands thinking, “If only my husband was more like him…”, or worse they think, “If only I was single…” As people age, discontentment doesn’t seem to go away. I hear people in my parents’ age group wishing, “If only I was younger…”, or “If only I could get around like I used to…” In fact, I find that many sweet little old people are not so sweet –many of them have been overtaken by bitter hearts overflowing with gripes and complaints. We begin our lives discontent, and most of us will die without ever knowing the secrets of living a contented life.
It is no secret that the more we get in life, the more we want.
We’ve seen the faces of third world children who have so little, and yet seem content. As a result, some people determine that the giant of discontent can be slayed by living a simple life. Various groups worldwide eliminate material treasures in hopes of gaining the virtue of contentment. While making a choice like this can be quite noble, I don’t think it’s the answer. I’m sure that over in an abbey somewhere, Sister Margaret has caught herself envious of the angelic voice of Sister Mary, and even the most devout Amish say to themselves, “if only…” from time to time too. (Maybe its something like, “If only I
had a better horse and buggy”????) So if eliminating material stuff is not the secret of a contented heart, then what is?
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul says twice that he LEARNED to be content. It sounds to me that learning contentment is the key. In order to learn something, one needs to put forth effort – learning takes focus and determined hard work.
Being content is a rare character quality that eludes most people. Even though it is extremely difficult to attain, it is an important Christian virtue. I don’t know about you, but I want to be content. I want to be satisfied, and not aching for something more or something different than what God has determined is enough for me right now.
After digging into God’s Word, I found three simple but profound truths regarding contentment:
The first thing that we must learn is that our lives are not about us. If I can train my spiritual eyes to be focused upward I can’t even begin to imagine the transformation that God will do in my heart. As we learn to focus upward, I believe that God gently points our faces back down, but with different eyes aligned to see the needs of others and are prepared to be His hands and feet to others. Rather than being restless in my pursuit for “more” and a desire to fill my “If only’s…”, I pray that I can live with a restless ambition to always know Christ more.
The second thing that I believe we must learn in order to be content is that God is sovereign. If you’re like me, then you know that God is in control, but do you REALLY believe it? When your world comes crashing down around you, do you still believe that God is on His throne and in control? I find it easy to trust in God’s sovereignty and surrender my circumstances to him when times are good, but I have yet to learn to etch this truth in my mind to stay content during the seasons of trials. Can I be content during a season of grieving over the loss of a loved one? What about during a period of waiting for “the call” from the doctor with the test results? How about when we just don’t have enough money to make it through the month and then the car breaks down? Contentment sure doesn’t seem realistic during any of these seasons, but if Paul was able to learn the secret of being content while literally chained up in a Roman prison, then we certainly can too. I yearn for the kind of intimacy with God that Paul had, which allowed him to be content even in prison!
The third thing we need to learn in order to know contentment is to have a willing heart. Most of us who know Christ want to be used in His Kingdom work. But are we willing no matter the cost? Am I willing to lay all of my hopes, dreams and desires at the foot of the cross and trust the One who sees the big picture? No. Matter. What. What if I get cancer? What if a loved one loses their life? What if my husband leaves me? It seems humanly impossible to consider it all joy during the darkest of days, but through the grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, a heart that says, “Yes, Lord” is exactly what is expected. Thinking of any of these “what if’s” quite literally makes my stomach turn, and I’m not advocating that we dwell on such thoughts. However, am I willing to rest in Christ alone and let Him satisfy me? We must gain confidence in knowing that He loves us so very much, sees our past, present and future and promises to work every single circumstance for our good and for His glory.
For years I’ve had a silly little dream when I think about growing old: I picture myself one day as a little old lady sitting on a porch swing next to my husband. In my mind we’re drinking lemonade sitting in front of a cute little yellow house with a white picket fence and reflecting back over our lives well-lived. Since I’ve started learning about contentment, I’ve given some thought to this fantasy. If it’s not a porch swing on the cute little house I’ve pictured, I think I’m okay with that. If God calls us to live in a place without porch swings or fresh-squeezed lemonade, I think I can be content there too. Now what if God calls my husband to heaven before we reach this day, can I be content? What about if my kids don’t turn out like I hope? I pray with each passing day that no matter what, no matter the cost I can know that God is on His throne. With my eyes trained upward onto Him alone, I pray that I will be confidently bearing the rare jewel of contentment.