It may be a cliché, but it is true: We always want what we cannot (or do not) have.
One person may look at your life and think, “Wow, you are living in a beautiful country … (or) you get to travel to incredible places … (or) you have a stable job—you must be content.” At the same time, you are probably looking at their life thinking the very same thing about something they have that you do not. We are each continually longing for the next thing: a spouse, putting down roots somewhere, or the next vacation.
Contentment—whether with our living situation, salary, relationship status, or whatever else—does not come naturally. It is something we have to actively cultivate.
God has shown me over the past year what it looks like to fight to be content every day. I use the word “fight” because I believe that learning to be content is just that. I believe it to be one of the biggest struggles we face in life. Furthermore, as women living overseas, we face unique challenges in seeking to be content.
We all have legitimate needs and desires given to us when we were created by God, but because of the fall, we naturally look to fulfill those desires outside of the only One who can satisfy them. The more we seek to meet those needs outside of Christ, the more unsatisfied and discontent we become.
So practically, what does it look like to strive (fight) to be content exactly where God has you today?
1. Be PATIENT with yourself.
If you struggle with contentment, know you are not alone. I believe most people wrestle with it one way or another. Some people may not even realize they are searching for contentment, but they are constantly seeking after the “next thing” they can do or obtain in life. In Philippians 4, Paul talks about contentment and that he learned to be content. The verb “learned” indicates that Paul had to grow in his understanding of how to be content in all circumstances and that this did not happen overnight. Be patient with yourself if you battle with contentment.
2. Cultivate a THANKFUL heart.
You may be single and longing to be married. You may be married and wanting children. You may want to escape the painful season you are in. You may also be in an abundant and sweet season. No matter where you are, focus on cultivating a thankful heart. When we stop being thankful for what we have and focus on what we do not have, discontentment creeps in and we start believing God is holding out on us. Psalm 116:17 says, I will offer to you [God] the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. This reveals that having a thankful heart does not come naturally to us—it is a sacrifice.
While living in a foreign culture, thankfulness can be even harder to cultivate. When you encounter difficulties because you are an outsider and foreigner, thank God that you are fully known and accepted by Him. When you feel misunderstood by family and friends, as well as the locals among whom you are living, reflect on all Jesus endured as He lived the ultimate cross-cultural experience. Have some ready truths about God’s character to which you can cling when times become exceptionally difficult. Strive to thank God in all circumstances.
3. FOCUS on today.
When we constantly look forward to the next season or next vacation or even the next meal, we completely miss the moment we are in and the blessings found in it. Our time on earth is short—much shorter than most of us would like it to be. Keep your eyes focused on today. Soak up every moment of it. Another day like it will never exist again.
4. Be CAUTIOUS of social media.
We live in a world where we are always connected to people through social media, which can result in a constant reminder of our unconventional lives away from home. Have you ever scrolled through Facebook only to realize an hour has passed and suddenly a deep ache has grown in your heart for something you do not have or something you missed out on back home?
The blessing and the curse of our world today is that, even though we may live thousands of miles from people we love, we can be connected to life in our home culture through the click of a button. As we connect through social media, it can easily pull us out of our current reality and focus our eyes on what we are missing. This can result in discontentment and dissatisfaction. As we seek after contentment, it is important to keep in check the amount of time we spend on social media and the condition of our heart after we do so.
5. TRUST in God’s provision.
The Lord knows exactly what you need when you need it. In the book of Exodus, after the Israelites were miraculously rescued out of Egypt and had wandered in the wilderness for a while, they began complaining to Moses about not having enough food. God told Moses that He would send bread from heaven to feed them, but every person needed to collect only the exact amount required to fill their stomachs each day. While living cross-culturally, we have a unique opportunity to see God’s provision in ways that we would probably not see Him provide if we were living in our comfortable home culture. We need to open our eyes to the ways He is providing—a friendly smile from a local or a seamless time at the post office. Focus your eyes on all God has given and all He is doing in your life each day.
6. Contentment is found in CHRIST alone.
Christ is the only one who can fill the insatiable desire in each of us for something more, because God created us for all our desires to be met in Him alone.
Many Christians have heard the popular verse found in Philippians 4 that says, I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. We often apply this to various activities we do, such as a project at work or an obstacle we want to overcome. However, when reading this verse in context, Paul was talking about how to be content and endure any situation. He says, Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
At the end of the day, our circumstances will not make us happy. No matter where we live in the world, what kind of house we own, or what comforts surround us—nothing can fulfill us the way Christ can. Christ is the only One who can fill the insatiable desire in each of us for something more, because God created us for all our desires to be met in Him alone. Christ will help us learn contentment as we rely on Him in everything we go through. He will show us that He can satisfy our deepest longings and needs as we seek Him and a relationship with Him, above everything else. Jesus loves us so much; He wants to meet our needs. As we lean on Him, we too can say with Paul, I have learned, in whatever situation I am, to be content.
Question to consider: What ways have you learned “to strive (fight) to be content exactly where God has you today”?