That Elusive Contentment
I sat at my computer working on one of my least favorite jobs in our landscaping company. It’s not something I have to do often but it is something that needs to be done. I reminded myself how much I hate this job (inside my head) a few times before remembering a conversation I had had with my youngest daughter a few days before.
She was telling me how she thrives on trying new things and pursuing new hobbies but that sometimes there are seasons in life that there is no time for that because there are other priorities. And how important it is to find contentment even when there isn’t the next and new hobby or adventure or experience. She went on to say how sad it is that her generation is being taught to always look for the next “experience” to fulfill them.
And that is what has happened. While my generation was about getting stuff, her generation is about getting experiences. Many of them hop from one to the next. Their contentment is driven by these new experiences.
But it matters not whether we search after contentment in stuff or in experiences. Both are deceiving us into believing contentment can be found outside of God. In fact, our search for contentment in anything outside of God is fruitless and disappointing.
As I sat there at my computer, I thought about the impatience I feel when I am doing a job I don’t like. Let’s just get this over with and move on. But this time–and maybe for the first time ever–I took a moment to think about why I am telling myself I hate this job. It really is not that bad. God has given me the tools to do it and it’s a small part of my life. And I suddenly recognized the need to be content even in doing this mundane, ordinary job that I don’t like.
This really made me reflect on this idea of contentment. So many of us spend our lives jumping from one stage, one experience, one remodel, or one big purchase to the next. We have been taught that contentment comes with change. And so we are constantly changing.
Our culture has molded us to want and desire change. How often do we find a favorite scent or flavor of something just to find it has left the store shelves never to return? Or we go into the bank and the person you’ve talked to forever has been moved to a different branch? Just because. (That actually happened to me many years ago– my bank at the time moved their employees every three months so you could never get to know any of them. That was when I left that bank.)
But somehow in the midst of the constant changing, we became convinced that change is what it will take to make us happy. If my kid will just reach this stage. Or if my husband would just do this. If we’d just make more money or be able to redo the kitchen. Or if we could just lose weight or get a college degree. You can fill in your own sentence here. We all have our own “next thing”.
But I am learning–ever so slowly–that when that thing arrives that you thought would make you content, it only lasts for a bit and then your heart feels empty again and that next change calls your name. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.
So how do we find real and lasting contentment? Where does it come from and how do we get it?
As always, the Bible has something to say about this! Let’s take a look–
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
Before we get to that beautiful promise that God will never leave us or forsake us, we have this seemingly irrelevant sentence: Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Why would the Holy Spirit direct the author of Hebrews to write that? Perhaps it is because God knows full well that His being with us and never forsaking us is enough. Why do we covet and crave the temporal? We can be content with whatever God has given us at any give time, knowing full well we rest wholly in His sovereign and loving care.
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (I Timothy 6:6-8)
These verses remind us that all of these things we hunger after are just temporary. We cannot take any of this with us when we die. It will all fade away back to dust. Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have a million dollar house and can buy anything they want? Does someone live a fuller, happier life because they have traveled the world? Well, maybe…but maybe not. Because the Grandma over there who has submitted to the Lord’s will for her life and chosen to obey Him is going to have a much better life than the Grandma that hasn’t, even if they have everything money can buy. The young man who chooses to go into his trade job, joyfully living for Christ, is going to be far happier than the young man who has a prestigious career but follows his own selfish desires.
The choices we make in our lives that bring God glory always also bring us the greatest contentment. God’s plan and workings are both mysterious and quite amazing!
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
These are probably the most well-known verses regarding this subject of contentment. When we read Acts, we recognize that Paul isn’t just writing this out of thin air. He’s writing it out of his own personal experience. He has both abounded and has suffered need. He has learned this the hard way.
So what is Paul’s key to this contentment? First, we see from verse 13 that he recognizes that contentment comes from Christ alone. That it is Christ who strengthens us in all circumstances and that turning our eyes upon Jesus and taking them off of our circumstances is the key to this contentment.
But I think we can also gain a little insight into this contentment of Paul’s by turning back a few chapters in Philippians–
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (Philippians 3:7)
It is here that we recognize that Paul was able to find contentment because he understood that earthly gain matters not a bit. Christ was his center. Christ was the source of his contentment. To live is to live for Christ alone. To die is to be with Christ for all eternity.
And so scripture reminds us that true and lasting contentment isn’t found in changing our circumstances. Rather, it is found in changing ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13).
May we turn to the Word as we seek after contentment rather than turn to the world with all of its empty promises and fleeting feelings. The world might make fabulous promises but they are barren and hollow. The Bible, on the other hand, not only makes promises, but God keeps every promise He makes. True contentment only comes through trusting and obeying God.