Getting Contentment

Posted on: May 16, 2012 Written by
Getting Contentment
      Photography by: Viktor Borovskikh from iStock    

A sermon was playing while I washed the dishes one evening. The well-traveled preacher compared the life that is enjoyed by most in the USA with the life that is to be found in much of the rest of the world. He said slowly, “America is like Disneyland.”

At that comment I stopped rinsing the dish in my hands, for the Holy Spirit had smitten me. “See,” the quiet voice spoke, “you only go to Disneyland on vacation—you don’t live there.” I had to pause to think about that and realized that I really needed that rebuke. Until then I had not realized how much I had felt entitled to the US-style life that gives many comforts and close family relationships. Without knowing it, dissatisfaction had affected the way I viewed my life as a missionary in Nepal.

Ah-ha! I mused. That is it. I have not been truly content with my life because part of me thinks that what I have is not enough. Even though I know I am not going to live that kind of life, I still think that I deserve better. I had not even realized I felt that way. Something had not been right in my heart, but I had never been sure exactly what the problem was. Now the Lord had shown me what it was: I lacked contentment.

Well, I had already learned to be content with one thing, though: our house. That had taken some time. We took a plain, simple house in order to make it easier for the Nepali people to relate to us, and to remove the highly-potential hindrance of “looking rich.” The house is a little dingy, though, and it has bugs that fly out of different holes every May. The plumbing is not so good, and neither is the electric, but it is not ostentatious (as so very many houses are in this city), and it has the space we need.

Regarding my perspective on the house, things came to a head for me when we returned to it after a furlough. Having again experienced a more comfortable way of life in the US, when I looked around our home I saw only how much it did not match up to my standards. Discontentment grew because I imagined that living in a lovely home was my right. “Grumpy” would have been a good word to describe how I felt about it.

Then, one morning while reading my Bible, the Lord showed me His view of my heart, the view I really needed to see. That day I recorded the following in my journal:

The full soul loatheth an honeycomb: but to the hungry soul, every bitter thing is sweet. (Proverbs 27:7)

In my perspective of what nice, lovely, and comfortable is, our house is dumpy. My “full soul” (for there are so many who would revel in such a place!) loathed this house with its dirty, smudged walls, poor paint job, dingy colors, rust, poor lighting, ugly floors…well, it is certainly evident I have noticed all I do not like.

Even so, I want to maintain an attitude of gratefulness. Not just for the things I like—the yard, the built-to-my-height kitchen counter, the cheerful butter-yellow paint in many rooms, the nicely sun-lit living room in the afternoons, and some of our furniture. I want to have an attitude of thankfulness and contentment not because I like some of the things I have but because these are the things I have.

The contentment, I learned, had to come because I understood this was what God allowed me to have, and I had to realize that I had no claim or right to better. That day I started to learn the lesson, but the Lord had something else for me as well.

A few days later I was reading in Ephesians: …And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. As I read those words, the Holy Spirit again pricked me and, as a picture of the despised, dingy walls of my home filled my mind, a small voice sounded in my heart, “And I’ve been living in that, too.”

Oh, I was so ashamed. My heart had been just like that house—dingy, dirty, ugly, full of self-pity and unkindness and bitterness—and the Holy Spirit was grieved to have to live there. I yielded my will and learned a lesson of contentment with the home we had, and today I am content in my house, even when the bugs come flying out in May.

In meditating on these thoughts in the days after listening to the “America-is-Disneyland” sermon, I understood that all the nice things and easy ways that I remember from the US are really above what I deserve. Just because someone invented a dishwasher and (I imagine) most people in America have them, does not mean that I deserve one or should feel a slight twinge of displeasure as I hand-wash my dishes. Just because there is such a thing as wall-to-wall carpeting, does not mean I am owed it. Just because there are such things as shopping carts big enough to fit four small children in them and minivans with enough space for all those children and two weeks’ worth of food, does not mean I am entitled to them.

Living in a poor country has taught me that I have a much physically-easier life than most people in the world. I knew this in my mind, but it had not reached my heart because my “full soul” loathed the harder-to-me aspect of my life. I knew in my head that I needed to be thankful for what I had, but in my heart, I only felt the loss of what I could have, if I lived elsewhere.

And then the Lord, in love and mercy to His child, gave a gentle reprimand, and peace came. I am not owed or entitled to any certain kind of life at all, and I can rest contentedly in His faithful, constant provision.

 

© 2012 Women of the Harvest.

Questions to Consider: What keeps you from contentment?  What helps you get there?



About the author

Joy and her family have lived in Nepal for the past ten years. She and her husband have four young children.

View all articles by:
  • Karin

    Thank you so much for that reminder. I too have allowed discontentment and dissatisfaction to creep into my life. I am not a full-time missionary yet, however, God is in the process of preparing me in many ways for the mission field. My call is to the Tibetan people of China. I know that life, when He releases me, will not be easy and so that is why it is so important now to persevere in my struggles with grace, and not simply enduring.

    Blessings to you and your family, Karin

  • Thank you, Joy. I can relate to this so well as we have just been one month back “Home in Disneyland.” I see in myself how easy it is to be taken up with all the possibilities for home decor, furnishings, clothes and personal accessories. I also see how easily I can lean toward discontentment when I feel that I am without any of these items. You are so right that America is kind of a Disneyland. As beautiful as it is and for as much as I love my homeland, the “lust of the eye” is never satisfied, is it? In fact, none of those three “lusts of” are satisfied for very long. No matter what I buy or am given to fill those “needs” soon I will want something more or something different. In conclusion, the only lasting contentment I can have is to allow my heart, mind and soul to be filled with my Savior. He is still working on me in this area, too; but I am thankful to have found that place of contentment, joy and peace. Praise the Lord, for Jesus!

  • Joy’s piece reverberated with me. I lived for our first 7 years in Japan always thinking in the back of my mind of my beautiful, comfortable home back in Canada – not a house but that place of feeling ‘at home’ – not having to struggle
    with kanji, finding my way around in a maze of nameless roads, able to ask questions but not understand the answers.
    God had to work on my heart and bring me to a place of acceptance, resting in HIm, and contentment rather than whining.

  • Thanks for your honesty and for this challenge I too needed.

  • Beautiful article… thanks, Joy.

  • What at timely reminder. God has given me so much, and yet there are times when I want more, and I’m not talking about things spiritual. Thank you.

  • GG

    Timing is everything, isn’t it? This article hit me dead center. I have been living in Spain for almost 3 yrs now and live in a home that was new construction in a brand new neighborhood. My water heater keeps malfunctioning and needing repair. Each time, it has taken several plumber/technician visits to actually fix it. It is broke down again this month and I have been whining about not being able to take a warm shower. I have definitely felt entitled to a properly functioning water heater. I don’t know why this keeps happening but I definitely need God’s grace to bring me to a place of contentment.

  • DeiGratia2905

    Thank you for being a faithful messanger. I have been struggling with something similar. 🙂

  • Cathy

    Ok, I am just going to give a little bit different perspective…God created a beautiful, perfect garden for Adam and Eve. We are created to live around beauty, not trash and brokenness…which does wear on our souls. Why settle for broken and ugly, just because so much of the world has?

  • Carleen

    How refreshing to be with someone who has learned contentment! I appreciated your article, Joy. I am glad to say that my contact with contented people are not few… the choice case being my niece, Mother of 5 children and missionary in Asia. Her oldest was a bright little girl when she underwent heart surgery and never has she walked, talked or even been able to eat since that surgery. She will be 18 years old very soon. My niece cares for her and home schools her other children, ministers to many and signs her letters, “Content in Jesus”. And she is!!!

  • ann

    For those of us who live in what the rest of the world thinks of as Disneyland, the reality of following Jesus has meant that our struggles with contentment are just as strong. Family is still thousands of miles away, for us. I see my husband long after a level of normalcy that we know with our calling is not to be. When everyone in your town drives brand-new trucks or even decent trucks, and you have the 2 oldest, most dented, living-on-its-last-legs (I mean tires) vehicles, you have a struggle with contentment. Yet when you see those vehicles run when they’re supposed to be long-forgotten in the junkyard years ago, you realize God’s power can do miracles, and it reminds you that He is taking care of everything.

  • Carolyn

    I’m having the reverse problem of trying for contentment in the U.S. The house we had on the field was ever so much nicer than the one we have now on furlough. I had close friends and was living in real community on the field, and am trying to break into what feels like a closed society where we are now. Over there I had oodles of flowers and a loving kitty, which I don’t have here. It is true there is a lot of “Disneyland” available, but most of it is so shallow, it doesn’t really attract me. An ad came in the mail today saying, “You need new clothes!” How many sets of clothes can I wear at once anyway? So here I am being grumpy about living amid plenty, and that is just as bad as being grumpy about missing the plenty. Thanks for the good reminder. I need to be more contented with the blessing that the Lord has provided.

  • Kellie

    Joy, I really liked your article. Thanks so much. I guess as we see from the comments you have to learn to be content wherever God has us- that is why I really appreciated your emphasis on “the hungry soul” and also loved what you shared about the not grieving the Holy Spirit. I will be taking those thoughts with me for a while!

  • juanita

    Joy,
    Before I started missions I thought that my favorite verse was going to be Philippians 4:12. In my mind, I thought I could be content whatever the circumstance. I even told my father- in-law that I was sure I would be content. It has been eight years now since I said those words. Living in the field, I live situations like what you describe. Now, it is a struggle and an effort to be content.. My in-laws come to visit and bring me gifts from my Disney world so that I can make it one more year. Now, I understand why I miss home so much. Thanks for the article.

  • Melody DuBois

    Contentment is such an ongoing journey, isn’t it? I remember struggling to be content in my first year on the field — in the dark, dingy little apartment we found ourselves, struggling with language learning, longing for “home”.

    And I remember struggling on our first furlough — living in houses that didn’t quite match the (shall we say “palatial”?) images I’d nursed in my mind, feeling limited by the reduced buying capacity of our (not very) available cash, missing friends and position and being relevant on the field.

    And even now, nearly 20 years into this adventure — wait! wasn’t I supposed to have learned contentment by now?! — I struggle with the loss of a dearly loved home and community in the province, struggle to find contentment in the city, home, roles, community that God has placed us in for this time.

    The reminder that I don’t deserve any of it, that all is a gift, is so important — thank you, Joy! I’m also challenged by Shaun Groves’ blog post “Downward Mobility” (http://shaungroves.com/2012/05/downward-mobility/). I keep catching myself “expecting more at this stage” but this post reminds me to fix my eyes again on Jesus — who deserved it all, but willingly became nothing.

  • Alice brewster

    For most of the last 40 years my husband and I have lived in third world countries–Africa, Asia and South America . Wherever we lived my husband always made it a priority to provide a decent (not extravagant) place for us as a couple and later with our 3 children. I’ve come to realize that this was part of his/our biblical worldview. Why didn’t I have to carry water on my head from the river or go gather firewood using up most of our strength and energy for the day. The family was healthy, clean and well nourished because of it. Because my husband saw me, too, as one made in God’s image, the whole family benefitted. To read further on this read Darrow Miller’s “Nurturing the Nations” and Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Truth and Transformation.”

  • Vanessa

    Thank you. I am only 2 years on the mission field in Africa. It has only been a couple of days since I returned from family and friends in the states…..and already I find myself crying and asking God why he has sent us so far from my loved ones to this place. I was searching for comfort and advice online at Women of the Harvest and stumbled across your article. Thank you for reminding me that I am so undeserving and that in my self-pity I grieve the heart of my loving Father. He has given us enough. He is good and I will make it through. Your words were so challenging, healing, and comforting to my soul.