Handling Contentment Issues
By Shelly Esser
I did it. I finally mustered up the courage, swallowed my huge pride, and invited some of the ladies from our wealthy church over for dessert. What should have been a simple task became an overwhelmingly huge barrier for me. But why? I had never felt this way about opening up my home before.
But now for the first time, things I never noticed, like the size of our tiny studio apartment clothed with worn furniture and homely fluorescent-green shag carpeting, began paralyzing my efforts. How could I invite these women, who lived in one of the wealthiest communities in the country and whose homes were literally palaces, into our miniature apartment?
Discontentment started plaguing my soul. All I had to do was walk downtown or around the block for the sights of the 3,500-plus square foot homes to glaringly remind me of what I didn’t have. And almost without warning, I found myself coveting their homes, their possessions, and their lifestyles. Why did we have to find a meager apartment in a place like this during our seminary years? And how could I ever minister in a place so foreign to my own upbringing?
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:12-13, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Contentment is defined as “happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; a satisfaction with one’s possessions, position, status or situation.” It’s not so much having what we want as it is wanting what we have. True contentment is being able to say “I am happy right here where God has me,” regardless of the circumstances. Paul takes it a step further, using it to refer to a divinely bestowed sufficiency, whatever the circumstances. Especially in today’s materialistic society, this is a tall order.
How Can We Be Content?
But Paul doesn’t leave us with only the realization that we need to be content; however, he wonderfully tells us the “secret.” It is the union with the living, exalted Christ that enables us to be content. It is being in constant touch with Him and leaning on His strength - a strength that makes it possible in every conceivable circumstance, everywhere and in all things to be at peace, enabling us then to get on with it. This was the source of Paul’s abiding strength, and it can be ours.
As we realize that it is God who is ordering all of our circumstances, whether we have little or much, and that He knows what’s best for us at all times, we can begin to become content wherever He places us.
While I learned to be content in my surroundings, a remarkable thing happened: God took my focus off my littleness, and shifted it to the muchness He wanted to accomplish in my apartment. When I opened the door of my home to the women God was sending my way, He made it a holy sanctuary. Endless hours were lent to counseling friends, crying and praying with others through struggling marriages, fellowshipping in the love of Christ, and developing deep friendships. God was revealing to me that you don’t have to be rich in earthly possessions to be rich in Christ, and you don’t have to have a lot to give all you have.
Particularly in ministry, where the budget is often stretched to the limit, it’s easy to enviously look at all the things that are out of our reach and even at others who may seem to have it better or easier than ourselves. Nothing so hinders us in ministry than to be longing for something else. If our thoughts and hopes are always somewhere else, it is impossible for us to truly set our hearts on the work required of us here and now.
Maybe it’s not your home that’s breeding a discontented heart. Maybe it’s painful circumstances, an insufficient salary, an unaffordable vacation, or an unfulfilling ministry position. Whatever contentment issues you face, ask God to help you discover the secret. He desires to give you all the strength you need to live a contented life.
Although those days in that tiny apartment were difficult for me, I am thankful for all God taught me. It’s not the wallpaper or the beautifully tailored drapes of a home that is important, but rather what happens there and what God is allowed to do. And often He’ll begin when we start learning to be content. The exciting thing about God is that He doesn’t need a specific decor to enter a home, He just needs a willingness - and I guarantee you, He doesn’t even notice the carpeting!
Many years have passed now, but I often find my thoughts wandering back longingly to that little one-room apartment. Those were some of the best years of my life. Interestingly, when my friends and I reminisce, the carpeting and worn furniture are never mentioned. Instead it’s the tears God wiped and the encouragement, strength and the gift of friendship He gave us that we most remember.
And to think I almost missed it because of the carpeting!