Discontent creeps in so quickly and quietly and settles into cracks you don’t even realize are there. It is a slow fade where bright colors become muted and gradually coat the lens in which you see the world.
There was a season of my life when discontent played the lead – stealing my attention and persuading me I deserved more than what I had. It casually drained me of joy in such a secret manner I was not aware it was happening.
It snuck through a door left cracked open and started casually pointing out all the things I didn’t have: a dishwasher, cups that matched, a newer, nicer van. The color in my world dimmed more as discontent moved on to my people and what they weren’t doing for me: my husband who didn’t buy flowers, my children who didn’t help out, my friend who always wanted me to host play dates. The few small things that I didn’t have overshadowed the incredible blessings that were all around me.
Doesn’t this remind us of the words whispered into Eve’s ear in the Garden of Eden as the serpent drew her eyes to the one tree in all of Paradise that was not for her? Her lens narrowed in on that one piece of forbidden fruit until it blinded her from the beauty and grace God had designed and poured out all around them in every little detail of their landscape. Proverbs 27:20 says, “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” She traded Paradise for a bit of hell on earth because of discontent.
When God called my attention to this unidentified and unwelcome parasite that feasted on my joy, I was stunned. It was as if God had slapped me in the face to awaken me before this thief had robbed me of any more time or any more blessings.
All around me was evidence of a loving and gracious God showering gifts on His precious daughter. I had so quickly forgotten His mighty rescues, His provision, His miracles, His sacrifice. I had been blinded from seeing how richly blessed I was in the countless answered prayers and the people I loved so dearly.
I began to pray Ecclesiastes 5:20, asking God to “keep me occupied with joy in my heart.” I wanted to feel content, and although it improved, it became more of a rollercoaster ride where I viewed life in full-color some moments and was completely blinded by discontent other moments.
In frustration, I began to dig deeper into scripture. Those verses before Ecclesiastes 5:20 show that the ability to be content is a gift from God; one He is ready and waiting to give when we ask. I had been trying so hard to be content, but my own strength was not going to be enough. I needed God’s strength. I needed His vision. I needed to humbly admit how much I needed Him.
Philippians 4:13 is a very popular and important verse: “I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me.” We often see it on sporting gear as an inspiration. I have often mouthed these words when I push myself while I’m running. Although it certainly applies to many situations, this bold and confident statement is specifically referring to contentment. These words come right after Paul writes that he has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He knew that being content was possible in every situation, and wrote those words while being under house arrest, not knowing what his fate would be. But he also knew contentment would not come under his own strength nor would it be instantaneous. He “learned the secret of being content…”
If we back up even further in chapter 4 we see Paul’s guide – his “Contentment for Dummies.” Here he lists 4 ways to rage against discontent:
- Marvel in our Awesome God
Philippians 4:4 tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” I absolutely love The Message translation of this verse, “Celebrate God all day, every day! I mean revel in Him!” When we are truly reveling in God – enamored with Him and His perfect ways, there is little room in our heart for discontent. We can ask God to stir in our hearts a great delight in Him and teach us to marvel in His ways.
- Don’t worry – Trust
Verses 6 and 7 say, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes worry and discontent are symptoms of a lack of trust in God. Francis Chan says, “Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.” Until I really started wrestling through this, I felt I had a pretty strong trust in Him. But as I wrestled, God showed me that I had some areas that I had not fully surrendered to Him. I knew God had His best for me, but I needed that knowledge to take root in my heart.
- Pray, Pray, Pray
When we humbly pray about everything, as it says in verses 6 and 7, we are admitting to God (and ourselves) that we cannot do it on our own. None of it. We trade in our hands that are either busy trying to do all His work for Him or tightly closed because we are angry we are not getting what we feel we deserve, for open arms, reveling in His goodness, outstretched and ready to receive His peace and fullness that is greater than anything the world can fathom.
- Have an Attitude of Gratitude
Those 2 verses also include an incredibly important key to contentment: thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude. Ann Voskamp writes in her book, One Thousand Gifts, “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! To His grace. Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.”
Thanksgiving is the shout back at discontent that it is not allowed here. You know when I’m having a difficult day at my house. You will hear me naming every single thing I can think of that I am thankful for…outloud. I am so much more vulnerable to discontent when I am tired or overwhelmed. But as I recount my blessings, soon you will hear my six year old join in and then my four year old, thanking God for all the grace-filled gifts He has surrounded us with. And the discontent slips out the door as we remember together…the bouquet of dandelions picked by chubby little fingers, the neighbor that brings us laughter and treasures from her garage, the friends that drop by a plate of homemade cookies baked fresh that morning.
This summer could certainly be labeled a summer of discontent. We, like Paul, have experienced periods of house arrest and uncertainty, along with rioting, violence, and social and cultural upheaval. And there doesn’t seem to be a clear end in sight, which is perhaps the most unsettling of all. But we can rage against discontent. In our hearts, in our homes, and in the examples we are to the world.
The world needs to see this hope shine in the contented hearts of His people. Even in the midst of all of the turmoil we are seeing, we can “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation.” Marvel and celebrate. Trust in a big God. Humbly pray about everything. Have an attitude of gratitude. Discontent cannot survive under such harsh conditions and will fade away. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Melissa Anderson