The Art of Contentment
By Jill Briscoe
I was at a typical gathering of church women. I asked a leading question to get the women talking. “What would make you more content than you are at this present time? Start your answers with ‘If only,’” I suggested.
“If only I could live in a bigger house,” a middle-aged woman sighed. I could understand that. I remembered living in a really tiny house when Stuart and I were in youth ministry, and longing for more space. After all, the other youth workers seemed to have more space than we did, and they didn’t need it as much as we did! There I was, wanting the space in my home that others had in theirs. After all, we were going to use it for ministry.
“If only I were as pretty as my sister,” responded another woman. I could certainly relate to that! I grew up in the shadow of a stunning sister. I remembered how fed up I was with all the boys wanting to get to know me so they could get to know her!
“If only I had the chance to go to college,” still another chipped in. “All my siblings got to go but me.” I could understand. I never had the chance to go to Bible school.
“I’d be happy if I could go skiing with the family like my brother and his kids do instead of only being able to afford to go camping,” added a young, upwardly mobile homemaker. Who of us has not grown envious hearing about the exotic vacations someone else takes!
“If only I had a husband and family. I’d be content never to go anywhere!” a single girl said softly. And so it went on. It seemed each woman was urged on by another’s discontent.
I thought how easy it is to live our lives in the shadow of “if only.”
But it’s high time we realized that coveting is a sin! I realized that fact when I first read the Ten Commandments. There it was in black and white for all of us spoiled, discontented people to read. God has said loudly and clearly, “Do not covet.” Every time we break the commandment, God says, “And what part of ‘do not’ do you not understand? Even if we say “if only” silently in our hearts, God hears us loud and clear!
I grew up playing the “if only” game. Not growing up as a Christian, I had never read the Bible and didn’t know Jesus could satisfy me. I had this gnawing sense of discontent, and I assumed that it was because I had not found the person, thing, or situation that would satisfy me. So I played the “if only” game. It seemed I never got to the end of the game.
And then I found Christ!
Now, many of my “if only’s” have been answered. The Son of God walked into my heart, and the day dawned! How could I have lived in so much darkness and never known it? The day dawned and the birds sang and my world was changed!
Yet it wasn’t long after I had come to faith and the first euphoria passed that I began to hear the urgent “if only” voices again. How could I still be saying, “If only”? I felt more guilt than I had ever felt before I became a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to be unsatisfied. They are not supposed to envy other Christians who appear to have all their “if only’s” satisfied. What was wrong with me?
Wanting what other have is a disease. What’s more, it’s catching! If you are around people who are never happy and are always grumbling, you’ll find yourself infected with the same “grumble germ.” Yet love is the medicine that cures the ailment.
Paul told the Corinthians that coveting was childish and dangerous behavior and they needed to grow out of it. He wrote, “Love is not jealous” (1 Cor. 13:4); “Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have” (The Message). Love loves God supremely and one’s neighbor as oneself. This is possible because we are satisfied with the Beloved alone.
Do you struggle with the monsters of jealousy and discontent? Do you feel you have never really found true satisfaction in this life whatever your circumstances? Have you ever asked yourself, is this all there is? And are you concerned about it? Good! Then we can hope that you will pursue the art of contentment. It can be learned.
Paul wrote that he had learned the secret of contentment, and the secret was Christ. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Or in The Message: “Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (The Message).
Paul said he had learned how to be content whether full or empty, happy or sad, abased or abounding. He wrote his epistle of joy from prison! We might be in the prison of a bad marriage, of a chronic illness, of a heartbreaking circumstance. We may feel we are shut up to old age, poverty, or ignorance. Whatever prison God has allowed in our lives, His love can flood that cell and bring peace, contentment, and even joy.
Bring your “if only’s” to God and let Him teach you the art of contentment. In learning the art of contentment, your “if only’s’” will disappear as you discover Christ as the content of your contentment.