- Often we believe If I just had “that one thing”, it would be easier for me to be content. What’s that one thing for you right now?
For me, “that one thing” would be quiet. I have 5 kids and live in a country where noise is a national pastime. In a city of 6 million, there are few places to go where your thoughts get to run rampant.
- I’m sure living abroad hasn’t always been a straight paved road. Tell us a little about your journey toward contentment. What were some of your roadblocks along the way?
Contentment is tricky. There are times that I mask my discontent with adrenaline. If we have a company meeting in another country, it seems that contentment comes really easily. But what I’m truly experiencing is relief. I’m not having to worry about my normal responsibilities, so it feels like I have margin for contentment. But that’s the lie. The lie that contentment is only found in easy and simple.
Because I wanted to be fully here in my host country, I went through several years where I denied the power of community in my life. I wouldn’t lean on my stateside friends for counsel nor would I seek out others that were peers rather than people I was ministering to. I separated those I was ministering to into a category that remained one way. Once I tore down the arrogance that I had to be all things to all people, I began to heal. My national friends could hear that I was lonely and worn out. My stateside friends needed to know that I was fed up with people pushing me onto a bus over here. This fluid community allowed myself to find contentment because it felt like I had people in my corner again.
- What was a go-to habit when you were feeling discontent? (e.g. looking for plane tickets online)
Watching Jimmy Fallon on YouTube. There were a couple of months while we were living in Northeastern China that I had completely forgotten how to laugh. Nothing was funny and lightness seemed a triviality I couldn’t afford. This scared me. We had picked up our daughter from Ethiopia, moved to a new city with four other kids all seven years old and under, started full renovations on our apartment, my husband began a PhD, we were helping lead a brand new theological education team, and I was homeschooling. There was very little space for funny. When you look back at our family Christmas picture from that year, it looks like we all just ate fish scales and tried to pretend we liked it.
The danger is not in the comedians, but in the knee jerk reaction in which I ran to them. I didn’t allow myself reflection time to figure out what was going on at a heart level because I was just too stinking tired. I wanted to simply receive and not give. This is where things got unhealthy.
- What Scripture[s] do you cling to—or what do you seek out, if it’s not Scripture—when you are feeling discontent?
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14
I memorized this verse during that year because I knew that this would be the only thing that would get me out of bed. I would literally picture the scene from The Matrix where Trinity was lying on the floor after just having pummeled down a staircase. She says to herself, “Get up, Trinity.”
I would say this verse out loud and then say, “Get up, Carrie.” Everyday.
- How do you define, or reconcile, the difference between the heart’s discontent and a holy discontent2? What do you do with a holy discontent?
I’ve found that a heart’s discontent usually begins and ends with how I feel about something. A holy discontent is how God feels about it. A heart’s discontent will often times lead to lack of motivation, blame-shifting, resentment, and day-dreaming about other people or jobs that would make your life better. A holy discontent is going to lead us to righteous action. It should lead us to humility, prayer, community, and obedience.
- Tell us about a time when you and your spouse (or you and your children) were not aligned in your level of contentment at the same time. How did this play out? What tensions did it create? How did you recalibrate? (or…Were you ever both discontent at the same time?)
When my husband was pursuing a PhD while we were on the field, he was also traveling every month for our job. I was a very supportive wife…the first semester. As the months rolled on, I discovered how resentful I had become of the brain space his studies were taking up. And because he was studying theology, I displaced some of that onto Scripture study. Because so much of our conversations related to his schoolwork (i.e. the Bible), I quite simply got tired of hearing about it. I hate this reality, but there it is. He was so focused on his studying that I felt neglected and discontent. He was happy as ever because he loved his dissertation topic. While I was on board with the idea of his studies, I quickly became frustrated with the practical sacrifice it was taking.
I had to be very intentional about finding community with other women. They provided a good outlet for conversation other than my husband’s PhD topic. This was huge for me because it gave me the capacity to listen to him. I was getting to laugh and talk about various topics with other women and therefore had the ability to dial in to him when we sat down and talked.
1. Here I’m defining this as an internal state.
2. frustration or concern brought about by the needs of a broken world; the things that break God’s heart and compel you to action, likely aligned with your calling and purpose on the field