Three practical truths that lead to contentment
The other night Cal and I started listing the actual (very) basic needs that humans require to survive. Spoiler alert: it’s not a lot.
Food, water, shelter, at least 1 pair of clothes, sleep, and human interaction.
A whooping 6 things.
*Disclaimer: We left God out of the list only because His transcendence seemed incredibly obvious to us.
Broken down, the abundance that many of us live in is astounding. Maybe even a bit disgusting. Mostly, it’s absolutely humbling.
So then, if so many of us having everything we need, why does it feel near impossible to not be on the constant search for more? Why do our desires feel insatiable? And what do we do about it?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with discontent. Living in and enjoying the moment comes easily for me, but when I take a step back and survey my life, it often strikes me as a wasteland. My natural response to the perceived emptiness is to pile more and more on, yearning for that one magic experience to wash away all the discontent. I jump from book to book, meal to meal, podcast to podcast, and idea to idea, leaving a jumbled mess strewn behind me. In my incessant need for more, I find myself feeding the lies that contentment is just around the corner. It’s not only exhausting, it’s also damning.
Sitting down to journal through all the areas I am prone to run to when feeling discontent, I surveyed the results and they were telling.
Relationships, exercise, shopping, experience, entertainment, and planning were the first items that popped into my mind. As I began to pray through this list and dig into the core of this particular idol, I turned to Psalm. And it was there that the Lord responded in kindness by sharing a different truth:
“Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.” Psalm 63:3
A week or two later, I come across this passage in Philippians, where Paul spills his own secrets of contentedness to the church of Philippi in a way that did not strike me as coincidental:
“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and 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 Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11b-12
As I sat and chewed on these two seemingly different passages, I wondered how these words give us insight for practical ways to replace discontent. And it was these three truths that seemed to stick.
We need to be just as intentional to seek contentedness when we’re living in abundance as when we are living in need.
What struck me most when reading the much loved, much used passage in the Bible (Phil. 4:11-12) was that Paul lists our desperate need for contentedness in abundance alongside the need for contentedness in scarcity. He recognizes that we don’t just need Christ to strengthen us in contentedness when nothing is going our way, we equally need His strength when the abundance is surrounding us. I’m learning that I’m not immune to discontent when life is going my way. In fact, I personally struggle with discontent more when I am living from a place of abundance because those are the seasons that I have the tendency to take my eyes of Christ and turn them onto myself.
The Spirit is ultimately that key to contentedness.
How do you define “life”? Perhaps it’s through relationship with others. Maybe it is by striving to make others around you feel included and loved. Possibly it’s through experience and emotion. It could be the ability to think, question, doubt, and reason. Maybe it’s the gift to press into freedom. Whatever it is, Psalm 63 points out that His love is better.
Because Your (the Father’s) love is better than life (marriage, sex, friendships, rich emotions, food, nature, serving, wondering, questioning, learning, growing, experiencing, existing), my lips will glorify You.
When we set our eyes upon the One Thing, all else fades away. And in His strength (as Paul points out), our mindset shifts. Because He is far more exciting and full of adventure and love and belonging, who He is is better than anything that embodies our life in this world. We are invited to step fully into the throne-room, full of grace and mercy, truth and peace. We realize His love is better than life, and so we can sit before Him, lavished in His love. Discontent cannot just simply be eradicated. It must be replaced by Someone who offers more depth and riches than we could even dare dream.
But on a practical level, how do we get there?
We build altars.
Listen, I’ll be the first to tell you that we have really no control over our emotions. Yes, we have 100% control over the way we react to them, but our emotions run wild and unconstrained. It sounds like a “Sunday School answer” to say turn your eyes upon Jesus because many of us have tried that and it just simply did not work. We still felt discontent. We still felt discouraged and that life just wasn’t measuring up. Listen, you can feel all of those things and still praise through that. After all, we don’t have to worship our emotions. We can choose to worship the One who created them. And I would wonder how you are choosing to look to Him for strength. Because we first need to take off our rose-colored glasses, tainting the way we view the Father’s love. It may not FEEL like He is good. It may not FEEL like He saves. It may not FEEL like he sees. And yet, when we take a step back to remember His character, we learn that He is all of that and more. The Psalmist proclaims that He will glorify (aka praise) the Lord with His lips (aka spoken words). And in this, we have a choice. To praise the Lord OUTLOUD, despite what we may feel, and remember what He has done. Flip back through your journal pages, talk to trusted friends, re-read the redemption story (& the Exodus story!), and ask yourself (+ others): where has He shown up? In the big ways and the small? In my life and in the pages of Scripture? And then, build an altar there. Remember His goodness in the ways that He has already shown up. Glorify him outloud by recognizing how He cares for you.
Contentedness is never lurking just around the corner. It’s here and it’s now. It’s stillness and it’s silence. It’s remembering and it’s praising. It’s gratitude and it’s building altars where He has shown His goodness. The secret to contentedness is not working harder on yourself, it’s taking the focus off yourself. And it’s in His outstretched arms where the true well of abundance overflows.