Some people may not even realize it, but right now, they are working hard striving to arrive at some sort of peaceful destination in their life. Most of us try many things, perhaps moved around a lot, do some traveling, change jobs, or redecorate our home, but that place of peace and contentment eludes us. We may have had moments of complete satisfaction when everything seemed to come together, but it didn't take long for things to fall apart. Soon we find ourselves in a state of discontentment, and we have to start all over again on the path to finding contentment. Each time we find ourselves in a state of discontentment and try to find our way to contentment, we learn something new. So the first thing that is important to know about contentment is that it is often a process, and something to be learned with each step we take towards achieving it.
We often think that contentment has to do with setting goals and accomplishing them. When our goals are impeded or frustrated in any way, we can become discontent until those goals are reached. However, setting and reaching goals often provide only a brief and fleeting experience where we finally feel content. I remember the first time I felt, not only a feeling of great accomplishment, but contentment, as well. It was when I graduated from Grade 12. I had reached the goal of completing the first leg of my education, and now I could move on to the next step in life — going to college to learn a trade, and then get a job and move on in the world. But life threw me many surprises, and I made some foolish choices that thwarted my plans to be a successful journalist. My life took a completely different turn, and I had to abandon my life goals for being a journalist. I discovered that I had an anxiety disorder that would prevent me from working under the kind of strict deadlines and pressure that journalism demanded. Out of this disappointment because of my health, I struggled for many years to find contentment in a career. I did have typing and office skills that I had learned in high school, so this is the area I worked in right up until I got married. But I had wanted the excitement and adventure of always learning new things, and then writing about it, so working in an office was not at all interesting to me. For the most part, I suffered with discontentment.
As a Christian, with the feeling of discontent came guilt. I chided myself for feeling so out of sorts with my career and my life in general, since, according to the Bible, I was to learn to be content. I had read Paul's writings about it:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Philippians 4:11-12
So I tried to be content in my career as an office worker, but since my life goals of being a journalist were not forthcoming, and I couldn't find the adventure and excitement I was craving through research and writing, I had to find other ways to find fulfilment in my life. Sometimes, people in similar situations as mine, turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or some other unhealthy vice. But, as with all vices, there are always negative consequences that only add to the problem. Fortunately for me, I did not turn to any of these vices. Instead, I just changed my focus from being a journalist, to just simply, being a writer. I loved reading and studying the Bible, so I wrote all kinds of articles based on certain topics that really interested me. For instance, I had a fascination with the idea of why a Christian backslides (turns away from God), largely because this is what had happened to me when I was a teenager. I wondered, How can a Christian live in a sinful world, try to reach those that are unsaved, and not be affected by the slippery ways of the world? Theologians call it "separation." I spent something like 20 years studying it, until finally I had enough revelation and knowledge, as well as my own past experience, to write a book about it.
Something else I did while I worked in an unfulfilling job as an office worker was to ask God for more interests in my life. I knew I would always have the writing, but I wanted something more. So God granted me the desire of my heart. He began to show me that I was a history buff and that I also enjoyed nature and anything to do with the outdoors (including some sports). So I joined a historical society, and then a naturalists club. I began to focus less on my unhappy career, and shifted my thinking to history and nature. I attended all the meetings of my two new interests, went to every museum I could find, visited the naturalist's centers in the city and outside of the city, and started to find a new purpose in life.
Some years went by, and I was relatively content, continuing to pursue my interests and adding new ones, like photography and art. I took courses, attended my church and got involved, made good friends at work, took little mini-vacations away from the city as often as possible, and found that I was living a satisfying and balanced life. But pretty soon another life goal came to the forefront. I was getting older, and I was still single; I really wanted to get married. Most of my friends were already married, and some of them even had children. I couldn't imagine not getting married, and even though this became an essential life goal to me, I would not just marry anyone. He had to be the right one, and he had to be God's choice for me. I was already seeing the break-up of some marriages, and I didn't want this to happen to me, so I prayed and then I waited on God. I waited and waited, thinking that a friend I would be seeing might be the one, but these male friends came and went. Nearing the time I would finally know the right man I was to marry, I could think of nothing else but getting married.
During this time, God was preparing me and doing a deep work in my heart. Whenever God is doing a deep work in your heart, it is very often a difficult and painful process. And it seems that the longer you have to wait for something, the greater the result. Knowing how much I wanted to be married, God presented me with the ultimate test of loyalty to Him, and also contentment to remain single if He didn't provide a husband for me. Was I willing to remain single and still love Him and serve Him in that state? Then, He pointed out another desire of my heart that I already mentioned — to write full-time. Writing was all I had ever wanted to do, but so far, had to put aside, and instead, work in an office. I had hoped to marry someone who had a good job, so he could support me in my writing aspirations. I wanted to quit my job working in an office. Now the Lord was asking me, Would I be willing to continue working in an office to support my husband if need be?
God is true to his Word. He was challenging me with the first commandment:
Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:3
Had I made the desire for a husband and the desire to write a god? Was I giving more attention to these requests than I was to the things of God? So now I wasn't sure what was going to happen. Like the Apostle Paul, I knew that I had to learn to arrive at a place of contentment with my life as a single, and may have to continue working in an office indefinitely. But He also gave me hope not to give up completely my dream of being married and writing full time. Time and again He would remind of the following Scripture:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33
Contentment comes at a cost, and for a Bible-believing Christian, that cost means you have to make a concerted effort to dwell on the things of God above and beyond your own heart's desires. You have to be willing, at any time, to hand over your most intense wants and even needs and be willing to abandon them completely for the sake of the Kingdom. This is probably the most difficult test a Christian ever has to face in life.
After I was married, and was able to write full time (yes, I passed the tests that God presented me with), many years later, I found myself unhappy and discontent yet again. My husband and I were living in a resort town that was very quiet during the winter. I was writing, but I needed more stimulation, and I needed a change. My husband was away in the city working, and he had a long commute to work each day (3 hours in total), so we hardly even saw each other any more. We wanted a place in the city, closer to his work. Once again, God challenged me with, Can you be happy here and trust Me with the way things are right now? Will you believe that this is My best for you in this moment? I wondered how I could answer Him this time. After all, He had given me one of my greatest heart's desires — a loving Christian husband that I adored and who adored me; but we were separated by this long commute each day. I was in the country alone while he was in the city. To add to the situation, by the time he got home, he was tired, and understandably, he needed lots of extra rest. Since I had been tested so many times before when it comes to the desires of my heart (I haven't mentioned other situations), I had learned to trust God, so I answered Him, Yes, I will be happy and content here alone without my husband if that is Your best for me right now. After I said this to God, unlike the situation when I wanted to be married and write full time, I was filled with a sense of peace and contentment. I looked around and really started to see how blessed I was. I had a wonderful home with windows everywhere, I was surrounded by the nature that I loved so much, I was married to an incredibly wonderful husband who supported me in my writing, I had a wonderful Christian family who loves me, I was healthy enough to enjoy my life, and I realized that things could always be a lot worse than they were at that moment. Not too long after that, God provided us with a spacious and beautiful townhouse in the city close to my husband's job, and we were still able to keep our house in the resort town. But the point is, I found contentment in the current state that I was in, even though I thought things could be a lot better than they were at the time.
Right now there are people who desperately want things. There are single people wanting a partner. They are married people wanting children but are unable to conceive or even adopt. There are unemployed people wanting a job, or people who are working in a job they don't really enjoy. There are people living in cramped apartments who would love to be able to buy a house. They are those that are sick that want to be healed so they can live a normal and healthy life. Everyone has needs and wants, and they can't understand why they feel so short-changed. Then there are others who seem to have everything they want in life, but are still discontent. Contentment is really a character-building process. God's ways are infinite and far superior to our ways. He uses our life circumstances, and the unmet desires of our heart to test our commitment to Him and to grow us in the area of our faith. While we may rarely abandon our dreams, we must be willing to put them on the altar of sacrifice before God, and let Him be first in our lives. The contentment that follows is so priceless, it can only be perceived as a great gift from God. Yet, sometimes, even though contentment is within our grasp, we live our lives in such a way that we prevent ourselves from ever experiencing it. Turn with me to the next chapter to look at what happens when we find ourselves driven to succeed, the cost involved, and how it affects our journey to contentment.