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