The Art of Contentment: This Present Life

Contentment is a radical choice these days. Our culture is consumer based which means that the world continually reminds us of what we do not have. We follow wealthy celebrities in part to experience wealth vicariously. We almost always believe we could handle it better than the shallow but beautiful people who live out their private moments in front of a camera.

Contentment is not merely radical these days; it is immoral. If we are not constantly striving to be more, have more, and have a greater impact, then we are copping out. The rat race is a moral imperative forcontentment many. I see so many couples working so hard to create their own brand of paradise, but paradise is not based on the car you drive, the beauty of your home, or your ability to entertain.

Paradise is not in having but in being.

The opposite of content is not merely discontent, despite the relationship between the two words. one of the opposites of contentment is shame. Shame drives us to accumulate more. Our possessions form an impenetrable shield around us, protecting us (so we think) against judgment. Our careers give us an identity that is unassailable in a world that codifies ambition as its highest virtue.

Another opposite of contentment is disappointment. To have our dreams shattered is to live in the shadows of despair. I think despair is the home of many who accumulate wealth or achievements.

But contentment is what we truly seek. To have enough, to be enough, these are the desires of our hearts. In order to inhabit this reality, we must be willing to appear weak or foolish. And to experience contentment, we must be willing to stop chasing our image of the perfect life. Contentment is an invitation to live in the present, but in order to live in the here and now, some adjustments must be made. Contentment is exchanging what could be or what should be for what is. Choices must be made.

I do not mean that one achieves contentment by giving up on dreams or destinies.  I do not mean that one should stop working hard. Merely this.

To be content is to live anchored in the present with all its attendant emotions, to choose to live one’s life fully and intentionally rather than at the whim of surface desires, society, and the need for perfection.

So how to move towards living a life based on what you know to be true rather than on how you think others perceive you? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Stay put. I spent most of my life wishing I was somewhere other than where I was. In the classroom, I wished the class was over. I waited five long days for the weekend. I counted the days until the next fun event or holiday. The problem isn’t with anticipation. Anticipation isn’t wrong. But once I resolved to be where I was, my life improved.

I stayed present while I taught. I paid attention during meetings I previously found torturous. I used my contentmenttime as it came rather than trying to hurry it along past the boring or painful bits. I made what once were intolerable stretches of time (like waiting in doctor’s offices) fruitful by using that time for contemplation or planning.

When I stopped trying to get out of the here and now, I began to enjoy my life much more. I took the time to really listen to my children, my student, and my husband. I took the time to really listen to myself. Discontent is often just a habit. A really stressful habit.

  1. Stop trying to make things happen. The surest path to discontentment is controlling behavior because it is futile. Like the high school girl who plans every moment of her day so as to ‘accidentally’ show up where ever the object of her affections will be, we often fall into the trap of manipulating circumstances and people. And like the high school girl, we have to learn the lesson that we cannot make anyone do what they don’t want to do, or feel the way we want them to feel.

The worship of the controlling person belongs to the merciless god of “what should be.”

The whole world is made up of situations gone awry. But the attempt to control the behaviors of others is to alienate them. Sometimes I think being controlling is the ultimate portal into the realms of dissatisfaction. To resort to manipulation in order to get the responses we want or need is to know that what we gained is not really ours. Love isn’t love if we had to make someone give it to us.

The world is not what it should be, nor are we who we should be. But if we stop shoulding on everyone around us, we often find that what is can be a much more doable proposition than what ought to be.

  1. Resolve your past. One of the most misused verses in the Bible is where Paul tells us in Phl. 3:13 to “forget those things which are behind and press on towards what is before.” This verse is used as an excuse to ignore the painful parts of our past as well as to avoid healing or counseling. I have even read that introspection is to be full of self. But confession is impossible without self-examination.

One of the symptoms of most kinds of mental illness is the rehashing of painful moments. This obsessive behavior is to be trapped in the past. It must be faced before it can be left behind. One painful moment that haunted me for years happened in sixth grade. I must confess that I am and have always been a highly sensitive person.

So when I miscalculated what was only my second menstrual cycle, I was devastated. The boy on whom I had a crush for three years saw, much to his embarrassment as well. Sometimes the pain of that moment would hit me and I would feel the clenching of my insides. I called it the ‘inward wince’. When I asked thecontentment Lord to show where He was, I saw Him in my mind’s eye covering me with a blanket. He hid me and I felt His compassion so deeply, my memory no longer carries pain.

It only becomes possible to fully embrace your present when you can bring all the disconnected parts of yourself from the past into the present. If that small moment had such an effect, imagine what our most painful episodes can do? We keep running from the past and from the present because we feel we can’t bear the pain. Perhaps we cannot on our own, but we have a Friend who will bear it with us.

    1. Know what you want. A friend of mine who is a therapist once told me that the fastest way to make a middle-aged woman cry is to ask her what she wants. She went on to say that very rarely could these women identify what it was that they wanted. Many people define contentment as merely being happy with where you are and what you have. If that is true, then contentment is a dream killer.

Another common response to the ideal of contentment is to muzzle one’s heart. We reason that if we don’t have desires, then we are not committing the sin of discontent. This is not true, either. If God wants to give us the desires of our hearts, then desire itself is not the problem.

I believe the issue is that we do not really know what our hearts’ desires are.

So many Christians take the one verse in Jeremiah about our hearts being wicked as the final statement of the heart.  But it is our hearts that cry out for God. He wants our hearts because they are made in the image of His great heart. We mistake surface desires for the great inner desires for significance and purpose. Unless we know what we deeply desire, we can never be content. We will wander aimlessly trying to fill our lives with achievements and things.

Contentment is a radical leap of faith.

It is the recognition that we have the things we long for. Faith is the substance of contentment. Because we know God and place our faith in Him, we know that we have all things available to us. We have the love and the purpose. We possess significance by virtue of who we are in Christ, rather than by the things we do.The revelation of our significance bears fruit as the works we do reveal the faith that must precede any good work.

In other words, good works only flow from Christ in us.

When we throw our lives in with the life of God, we no longer have to strive. We live out our days in the flow of the Holy Spirit. Once we find the kingdom of God, all the things we want and need are added unto us. Our contentment does not lie with a thing, but with a who. If our lives are hidden in God, then our contentment must be also.




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The Road to Jerusalem is in Your Heart



17 Replies to “The Art of Contentment: This Present Life”

  1. Beautiful! Loved your first point, “Stay put”. It’s a lesson God’s been impressing on me for the last few years. Thank you.

  2. Love that you share where true contentment can be found! The most miserable I ever found myself was when I was chasing after what I thought I wanted. The most content I have been is in focusing on Him and finding the true desires of my heart.

  3. Contentment has been on my heart lately, too! I love “stay put”. By nature I am task oriented. I make lists and I check them off. It can become all too easy to focus more on checking the box than actually experiencing the task in the moment! Thank you for the reinforcement in this area!

  4. Contentment is sometimes hard to find, but I think your right about having to resolve our past. If we don’t let go of hurts and past pain there will never be a way to move forward.

  5. I have learnt to be contented in the Lord… before It was really hard

  6. I thought I did this already, so if I did it twice my apologies.

    I felt like you were speaking to me, as this is something I really struggle with. I’ve been Christian for 18 years now as of May, and I have found that this journey is a walk that is constantly changing and evolving. Dare I say, that in the past, being content felt like I was accepting my circumstances as they were and I didn’t want to be complacent. But due to recent events in my life, I’ve had to battle this way of thinking. God put me in places the past few months, places that made me see being content is not a bad place to be and I’ve found comfort in that. I am a control freak, and God has been dealing with me on that character flaw. It’s been challenging, but I think for me, it’s been easier relinquishing that control and allowing God to take the lead. This topic resonated with me.

  7. I need to learn more contentment, because contentment brings peace

  8. This is so good and so relevant to me. Thank you for putting words to my own struggle to escape the here and now. I’m missing much by doing so.

  9. susanhomeschooling says: Reply

    “Contentment is exchanging what could be or what should be for what is.” I love this! Because I grew up in a third-world country, I don’t care about objects. Americans are constantly striving for perfect and rich everything. I am content with shelter, food, and water, and even if these are taken away, I have Christ.

  10. This was so gripping and on-the-mark. I immediately thought of those friends who I saw as contented; and of those who needed to read this as well. Of course- I fell right in the middle of those who needed to read it. I surely taught me something and blessed me! I loved the points you made as well, especially: “Stay Put”. How often we want to get onto the next thing, check off the next item on our list, or even say what we feel is more important. Thank you!

  11. This is going to sound trite, maybe even ridiculous, but I don’t feel that it is. I thought I’d be miserable without dish and dvr. Four years later and I don’t miss either, my house is so much more peaceful, and I feel like I’ve detox’ed. I was allowing for the idea of contentment and found not just peace but joy as well.

    1. I detoxed from TV a long time ago, too. I thought I would miss it, but I love the quiet time. Now when my husband watches tv, it doesn’t keep my interest and the noise makes me a little anxious.

  12. Ahhhh… Contentment is always something that we struggle with. What a beautiful thing to live a life truly content! I really appreciated your encouragement to stay put. This is something I am continually thinking of and praying for in my life with young children. I don’t want to wish away these days!

  13. Contentment is a radical leap of faith. I consider it being content in whatever circumstance God has us in at the moment. Not wishing it away but being present and fully taking advantage of the opportunity for His glory instead of wallowing in our discomfort.

  14. I just love this. I have talked about this for so long, about being content and happy with what we have and where we are. My family lives a fairly minimalist lifestyle anyway and this is a very important topic. Thank you for sharing it!

  15. My morning devotion today was about contentment! Such a timely reminder. Contentment is a great gift we give ourselves.

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