It’s pouring rain outside, which seems a little kinder than the hailstorm we had on Sunday. This summer’s weather has been colder and wetter than we are used to, and when you add in the nearly-constant smoke from nearby forest fires, the overcast sky keeps the outdoors from reflecting the season.
Complaining about the weather has always seemed silly to me. I mean, really, what are you going to do – shake your fist at the sky and demand better?
But I couldn’t help feeling some solidarity when I spotted a comment in a Facebook group for locals, complaining something like, “Here I endured a colder-than-normal winter, with record level snowfall, and I don’t even get a decent summer as a reward.” I remarked to my husband, that even though I’m not normally one to complain about the weather, it’s seemed easier lately to feel like I’ve been ripped off this year.
More than the weather…
So much of the time, though, the weather isn’t the only thing we’re discontented with. And even if we’re not openly grumbling, as believers, we’re in a constant battle to keep our heart’s affections in the right places.
I asked a group of women recently to share what areas of their lives they are struggling with contentment. The range of answers was incredible, and the depth of some people’s pain was palpable.
“Not being able to buy our own place. We’ve lived in rentals for 12 years.”
“Changing churches – It’s been painfully hard.”
“Trusting God when someone has mistreated me.”
“Disciplining our strong-willed child. It seems pointless at times.”
“Contentment in God’s timing for healing broken family relationships.”
“My body after my second baby.”
“Body image, weight issues, and chronic illness.”
“Exhaustion in motherhood, a season of young kids constantly needing my attention.”
The list goes on…
These are all very real and challenging circumstances. No one could argue that these are easy situations for us to find contentment in. But the ways we respond to our circumstances really reveal where our hope lies, and give clear indicators of what we believe about God’s faithfulness to us.
Working out our salvation
For me, contentment is a daily battle. I resonate with statements about struggling to understand how God could be using challenges in my day-to-day life to grow me as a Christian. More often than not, I worry that these challenges are actually obstacles to my sanctification, not the tools that God is using to conform me more to the image of Christ.
Paul addresses the Philippian church first, with confidence that God is going to complete the work he began in them (Philippians 1:6), then with encouragement to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, because God is at work to will and to work his good pleasure in us (2:12-13).
The working out of my salvation, means considering how my salvation and position in Christ changes me as a person. Working out my salvation means applying the gospel to my life, and living as one who is in Christ.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. (Philippians 2:14-16 ESV)
So how does a person who is in Christ live contentedly in light of the gospel? What do we do when we have been doing most things with grumbling and disputing? And how do we know what contentment actually is and isn’t?
Much has been written on the subject of contentment, to help us understand and live it out in our lives. Puritans like Thomas Watson, Jeremiah Burroughs, and Samuel Rutherford have contributed an enormous amount to help us practice thanksgiving in the good and the difficult. Contemporary authors such as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, Melissa Kruger, and Nancy Wilson have added their voices on the subject, bringing clarity in many ways to how we understand our struggles to grow in contentment.
What it is, and isnt…
I believe contentment is best understood as a deep satisfaction with God’s will in our present circumstances, as well as the confidence that he is working all things for our good as he completes the work he began in us. When I apply this definition to the challenges and obstacles I face, it assists me to receive from God’s hand what he’s ordained for my life, and also clears confusion with what contentment isn’t.
Contentment is not the putting away of all desires. Covetous desires are wrong, envy is wrong, but desires in and of themselves are not wrong unless they are in clear opposition to God’s commands. And as we grow more and more conformed to Jesus’ image, our deepest longings are for our hearts’ desires to be submitted to Christ. We bring our petitions to him, freed from the burden of anxiety (Philippians 4:5-6), confident that God will meet our needs in Christ (4:19).
Contentment is not found in practicing “at least” statements. While perspective is often helpful, when we find our hope in our perspective about our circumstances, if our circumstances ever change, we will ultimately lose hope. For example, “At least only my basement flooded and _____ didn’t happen,” only provides comfort insofar as nothing worse than flooding in your basement ever happens to you. This isn’t actually contentment, because it’s securing our hope in our circumstances, which are changing.
Contentment is not the practice of disregarding grief and pain. It’s not stuffing, or pretending nothing difficult or challenging has happened in your life. Contentment is not simply grinning and bearing it, never allowing anyone to enter into our suffering along with us. Even Jesus told his disciples, “Now is my soul troubled.” (John 12:27 ESV)
Contentment is not the act of throwing up our hands in resignation. God doesn’t command us to never try to alter our present circumstances, or to simply accept “our lot in life”. If we have opportunity to make changes, or to walk through open doors, we can trust God’s kindness to us in the process of our decision-making.
Contentment is not a feeling. We are not content because we simply feel content. And our present feelings cannot hold us secure when we encounter a circumstance or providence that threatens our contentment.
Contentment is something that we practice. Contentment will not magically appear in our lives, characterizing everything about us. If we want to become contented women, we must practice contentment.
What if I haven’t been practicing contentment?
Nancy Wolgemuth said it well, that I can whine or I can worship. That’s a difficult and sometimes painful standard to apply to our responses, but if we examine how we’re encountering life’s challenges and find ourselves lacking in obedient worship, we do have hope.
We can start by praying. We need God to work in us by the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how we are failing to believe the promises of Jesus in our present circumstances.
We can identify our “if/then” statement. What is the thing you say, either outwardly or in your own head, about your circumstances? Is it, “if only I had a better metabolism, then I would be happy”? Or is it, “if only my kids obeyed better, then I would be a cheerful mom”?
Confess your grumbling and discontent, and walk in the freedom God offers in Jesus. We serve a merciful God who is not asking us to carry the burden of grumbling and ingratitude. Lay it down, receive his cleansing from this sin, and believe the forgiveness he freely gives.
Abide in Christ, and fill your mind with his word. We aren’t defenseless against the whispers of grumbling in our minds and hearts. The Word is our best defense and weapon against grumbling, discontented lives , and we arm ourselves like Jesus did (Matthew 4), with the Word of God as we stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-17).
Walk with hope in the God of your circumstances…
Last, sister, remember that Jesus faced every kind of temptation to be discontented and grumble. He suffered in the flesh for you, not only facing the temptations perfectly, but he conquered the Tempter for you.
Walk in that living hope, knowing you have not been abandoned to struggle alone in practicing contentment. Don’t hope in your circumstances. Place your hope, securely in the God who is sovereign over your circumstances, and who promises to uphold you with his all-sufficient grace.
“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6 NKJV)