Six years ago, we faced a period of unemployment. As my husband saturated online career sites with his resume, and we scrambled to sell our house before landing in debt, I prayed fervently for aid. I didn’t care where we lived or where he worked so long as we could make ends meet. A few months later, when a job came through, and we headed to a 500 square foot, rent-by-the-month apartment in Texas, I praised God for His provisions.
The move was tough. Everything we owned, minus what we’d crammed in our apartment, was packed in storage. Our daughter’s bedroom was the tiny living room, her bed the couch. And yet, we were happy, content. Why? Because God had come through. More importantly, having so much of our “fluff” stripped away reminded us of what was truly important. We had each other, and we had our Heavenly Father standing beside us.
Two years and another move later, I sat in the basement of our house, three times bigger, miserable. Because I wanted more. Discontentment had settled in, and it started to steal my joy.
In Philippians 4:12 Paul says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”
Contentment doesn’t come naturally. In fact, the opposite is true. But it can, must, be learned and practiced.
I believe the secret lies in our focus. When we focus on ourselves, our situation and problems, we only become more miserable. But when we focus on others and on God, seeking to turn each day into a fragrant offering to Him, we find joy, peace, and fulfillment.
Ecclesiastes 6:3-9 reminds us to enjoy life, to focus on what we have, not what we don’t.
3 A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. 4 His birth would have been meaningless, and he would have ended in darkness. He wouldn’t even have had a name, 5and he would never have seen the sun or known of its existence. Yet he would have had more peace than in growing up to be an unhappy man. 6 He might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?
7 All people spend their lives scratching for food, but they never seem to have enough. 8 So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?
9 Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.
Don’t spend your days chasing after the wind. Instead, spend them chasing after a righteous God.
Paul experienced some horrendous trials. He was beaten, slandered, abandoned by friends, imprisoned, and yet, he found joy and contentment, because he focused not on his problems but instead on his mission. He had an eternal perspective and understood life here was but a blip. He also understood God was sovereign. Not only sovereign, but loving and faithful. This means everything we go through, the good and the bad, has a purpose.
Ecclesiastes 6:10 says, “Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.”
Psalm 139:16 tells us, “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
God’s in control, even when life feels crazy. He’s working out His plan even when we hit a roadblock. And it’s a good plan, a loving plan, one that will result in hope.
When we face a difficult time or disappointment, we have two choices: spend our short time bemoaning our situation and arguing with God or get busy doing what He’s called us to do.
Each day the choice is ours. We can make ourselves miserable or we can grab hold of the abundant life God promised by focusing on our blessings, His nature, and the work He wants to do through us. The former leads to misery, the latter to joy.
When I get bogged down with discontentment, I’ve found relief by serving others, in getting over myself and joining in God’s eternal plan. What about you? We all struggle with discontentment on occasion, with disappointments and regret. When you’re going through a dark time, what’s helped you find and hold tight to joy?
For me, God used a hot, afternoon run through a very poor part of town to change my perspective. (You can read about my story in Cathy Messecar’s A Still and Quiet Soul)
You may also find the following resources helpful:
The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence
Finding Contentment: Lessons For Daily Living
Well said and motivational, Jennifer.
Contentment is so very important to our emotional and spiritual well-being. I love that you pointed out that contentment must be learned, as well as focused on to achieve. It most certainly doesn’t come naturally. Great post, Jennifer!
As I was writing praying about this post, and how to verbalize all the thoughts swirling through my head, I thought of my roller-coaster attitude. It seems I struggle with discontentment periodically, whenever I become to complacent, I think. Thinking of Paul’s reminder that contentment is learned reminded me of bicycle riding. We learn the lesson, but if we go too long without practicing the action, we become rusty, wabbly. To pedal smoothly, we need to just hop back on that bike. 🙂
What a great reminder, Jennifer. Amazing to me WHEN we get discouraged and depressed – often when we have much, as opposed to little. We forget to lean on Him when things are “good,” and that will do it every time.
Great post, my friend!
My husband and I have experienced hard times..I lost my job 2008, we eventually lost our dream home..my husband lost a business.
Our current home has foreclosed we have no where to go. We have 6 boys in our foster home. God has sent these boys to us to take care of them after their lives have been one of constant turmoil…. I cry out to God in anguish….what will we do…
God knows what he is doing…he has a plan that only he knows. Through my faith I am relying on him to make it through.
Oh, Naiyly, I am so sorry to hear of your deep pain and anguish! Your faith is admirable and I know God will carry you through, but head-knowledge doesn’t always take the pain away.
I will share one thought that I couldn’t quite put into my post. Although our time of unemployment was painful and frightening, I experienced deep, deep healing I believe I couldn’t have experienced any other way.
You see, in my late teens, I went through a period of homelessness. I worked numerous jobs, crashing where I could, carrying all my belongings in a plastic bag.
I met my husband when I was at my lowest, feeling helpless and like life had no point. I believe God brought him to me because he reached out to me and helped me financially. He provided me with stability. His consistent love, and Christ’s healing love which is another story entirely, enabled me to begin to live. And yet, wounds from the past kept me in emotional bondage years later and seeped into my marriage.
Instead of realizing it was Christ who held me and kept me secure, I became dependent on our savings and a full pantry. I also believed my husband would eventually leave me, that our family would fall apart unless I did X and Y.
When my husband lost his job, it was especially hard because I felt like that scared, hungry teen again. During my teens, I was so focused on survival, I never really “felt”. In fact, if you would’ve asked me, I would’ve told you I didn’t care, that I was fine. During our period of unemployment, all those feelings bubbled to the surface. Everything I’d come to rely on was stripped away.
It sounds irrational, but I had this inner fear that I would end up homeless again. One afternoon, as I was praying, it hit me, I had Christ. And even if I were to sleep on the streets or under the overpass, I’d be okay be He’d stay with me. In that moment, it penetrated so deep, my greatest fear no longer gripped me. I learned His love for me was strong, true, steady, unwavering. I also learned He was the one holding our family together.
It could be that your foster kids need to see the same thing. They may need to see life “fall apart” into the hands of God to know that it truly doesn’t fall apart when we have Christ.
I’m about to start my prayer time and I’m going to pray for you sweet sister.
I love your emphasis on LEARNING to be content. It’s not natural, we have to develop it. Great article!
I lost my job 2 times. I used the free time to seek God. One thing was God let me see that I had to rely on Him during difficulties. He also let me know that on earth nothing was more important than my family. So I was happy that I had more time to spend with my family.
Yes, financially we were not doing well during the time of my unemployment, but I also learned that God would provide something better in His own time. I also learned to be content with what we had.
Thank you for yoir beautiful testimony.