“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 every time a new baby is born: I remember how quickly after each of my little cherubs 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 cycle 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 girls 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 children are always happy by giving in to their never ending requests of the latest trendy electronics and clothes. Single girls 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, “If only I was single…” As people age, contentment 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 – it seems like many of them have been overtaken by bitterness and are overflowing with griping and complaining. We begin our lives discontent, and most of us will die without ever knowing the secrets of living a contented life.
Some people determine that living a life of simplicity will slay the giant of discontent. Monks, nuns, Buddhist priests, Amish folk along with countless others 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 wishing that she had the voice of Sister Mary, and even the most devout Amish say to themselves, “if only…” from time to time too. (Maybe 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 hard to attain, it is a crucial 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.
I find it quite laughable that here I am writing about contentment, but yet I clearly have yet to LEARN this virtue. I thought I was pretty content, until I started digging into all of this. I hope that when I tell you how I spent my weekend, it doesn’t cause discontent to rise up within you. Bear with me for a minute though, and I think you’ll see where I’m going with this.
I had a great weekend. A really, REALLY great weekend. In fact, it was one of the best weekends in several years. I’m not sure that anyone really cares to hear about my extraordinary weekend, but I’ll go ahead and tell you about it anyway.
My most wonderful college friend and I flew across several states to meet up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She got there first and picked up the rental car. As I was waiting for her outside terminal 4, I was looking for her to pull up in something like a Dodge Neon, but she decided to upgrade. I mean, really REALLY upgrade. My jaw about hit the floor when she pulled up in a shiny new BMW 5-series!
We headed out as a pair of giddy little girls into the desert sun and checked into a gorgeous resort and spa, which became our haven for the next three days. It was an incredible treat: we were waited on, pampered and spoiled. We had no deadlines, no schedules, no to-do lists, and no one to ask anything of us. It was heaven…almost.
This next part I’m a little embarrassed to share with you. In spite of the sheer bliss that enveloped us, we managed to find a few little things that left us wanting:
“These features on the BMW are too complicated!”
“The pool is too cold!”
“I wish our balcony would have a better pool view!”
“If only these spa-robes weren’t so hot!”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? In the absolute lap of luxury my mind still can find things to whine about? I’m so ashamed! I thought I was way above this ungrateful kind of thinking! I mean, seriously – I’m the girl that when life gives me lemons, I make lemonade. After reading my admitted discontent, you’re probably thinking that I’m a big ol’ spoiled brat, but I assure you that I’m pretty easy to please, appreciative for what I have, and I most certainly don’t take this marvelous dream-trip for granted. I didn’t grow up in a lavish or spoiled lifestyle, and I don’t live that way now, so where did this come from? If I walked away from my vacation with anything, it is that I realized that I have a lot to learn in the area of contentment.
After digging into God’s word, I saw that there are several simple but profound truths regarding contentment. I think the first thing that we must learn (and by “we”, I’m clearly including “me”) is that our lives are not about us. It’s not all about me??? If I can train my spiritual eyes to be focused upward rather than around, 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 a different set of eyes that see the needs of others and are prepared to be His hands and feet in service to Him. 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.
While my sweet friend and I were together, we reminisced about our days as young single girls. That was a huge season of discontent. Our minds were completely preoccupied with a desire to be swept off our feet and carried off to castles by a couple of Prince Charmings. What I would do now to have some of that wasted time, energy and emotion back! As a side note, I have been married now for almost15 years with three amazing kids, and I assure you that none of my efforts paid off at all. If I could give a little tidbit of advice to all you single girls: you’ll never regret it if you train your eyes upward rather than outward on all of the cute boys! I can assure you that you won’t miss out on anything, except maybe a little bit of discontentment and wasted heartache.
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. Especially during hard times, I find myself looking out at the seemingly easy-peasy lives of my friends, and become jealous. I yearn for the kind of intimacy with God that Paul had, which allowed him to be content while in prison, of all places! Good grief – I fail even when I’m on an almost perfect vacation!
The next 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!” 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 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 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 holding onto the rare jewel of contentment.