- 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?
Well several things come to mind! But first I’d like to clarify. I am content! And it’s hard to face where I’m not. Our lives are generally a complicated mess so there’s always room for choosing contentment. But how do we reconcile the real sense of gratitude and contentment with the deep desires and needs we do still have?
For different reasons it is hard to voice lack of contentment: we know we’ve been utterly blessed so how can we complain or ask for more? Or we think it’s out of selfishness that we aren’t content so we squelch our desires. We do need to decipher these things! Where am I just self-focused or where is it for God’s glory in me and through me? Or just something I want and am asking my Father for?
Another reason it’s hard is we look at others’ suffering as inconceivable. And so it shuts us down. Reading Joni E. Tada we say, “I’ll never complain again!” But your circumstances and suffering are yours, orchestrated for His purposes and mine are mine. How am I responding to Him with what he’s bringing me now in my life, apart from anyone else’s?
I have begun a page in my journal where I’m listing different kinds of complaining because I’m convinced there is godly complaining, Psalm 55:7 (i.e., not being content with something or wanting more). God mentions his people in Hosea 7:14 “they wail on their beds but don’t cry to me from their hearts…” They were looking elsewhere for contentment. So if I have a desire, yet am content looking to Him, bringing it to Him, and letting Him be the one that holds it; can I leave it there and be content in knowing He is a good Father and wants to give me good things and that might not look like what I’m asking for?
So to answer the question (in a roundabout way):
I feel I could be more content if a loved one’s pain would disappear, or a friend’s marriage would stay and revive; or a relative would get over their addiction, or if I could get a book published, or find a better house for our kids to gather when we’re all in the same country. I’m learning to hold those desires before Him while looking to Him with contentment for today.
- 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?
I’m still on that journey! But have learned that when I faced my disappointment with God, after 7 years on the field, when He wasn’t answering as I’d expected when I was in such a difficult situation and only wanted to please Him. Then He was able get at some of the deeper issues of my demanding, proud heart and start His transforming work in me and then through me.
Roadblocks: Probably the 4 Cs! Comparison, Complacency, Criticism, Competition
- What was a go-to habit when you were feeling discontent? (e.g. looking for plane tickets online)
Chocolate, study, being competent, and withdrawal
- In the years you’ve been on the field, what one season, or set of life circumstances, would you say was the hardest for you when it came to feeling content?
When I had a house full of kids, homeschool was the only viable option and I had prepared for “ministry” for many years, so felt very torn. I learned major lessons through that period and wouldn’t give it up for anything!
- What Scripture[s] do you cling to—or what do you seek out, if it’s not Scripture—when you are feeling discontent?
Psalm 138:8 – He will accomplish what concerns me.
Psalm 90:12 – Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.
2 Peter 3:8 – … to the Lord one day is like a thousand years…!
Romans 8:28-29 – All things work together for good to those…called to be conformed to His image.
Psalm 46:10 – I will be exalted among the nations.
- 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 see the psalmists’ complaining as holy discontent most of the time because it’s often God’s name and renown that’s being trampled. I see Paul’s rebuking the early churches to grow up and step up and take hold of their calling as godly discontent where His glory is at stake. Often underneath my heart’s discontent is desire for ease, recognition, relief from pain, a shorter way to holiness, or lack of endurance.
- 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?)
Our first year in Central Asia, the landlord said he would get furniture and a phone for us right away. A couple of months went by living with no house phone (we didn’t have cell phones back then), sitting on the floor, and living out of suitcases. With 4 small kids this got old fast. My husband, very involved in what was going on outside the house, didn’t realize what a toll it was taking on me. I somehow didn’t verbalize this until it all came melting down over a small thing that represented a big thing. He was content to wait on the landlord’s timing, I was ready to tell the landlord a thing or two but didn’t know the language yet. Major stress! We both clued into the fact that this was a real need (duh!) and pressed the landlord to get what we needed which he did right away. Clear communication can do wonders!
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