Contentment is Not a State of Being

Christian Life & Theology

I’d go to Bible study above the chocolate shop, walk down the street to get coffee, and stroll through the tunnel under US-31 to watch the sunset from the pier. The clock tower gleamed red, its white face glowing like a moon above the bay. I never failed to see someone I knew on those friendly streets. Summers were spent shopping, swimming, boating, kayaking, and long Saturdays lakeside at the beach. Winters were spent on the ski slopes, on snowmobiles, sledding, skating and watching city league hockey games.

I grew up in a storybook, really.

Our farm was the kind they put in paintings. Our friends were warm and welcoming. I remember the laughter, the closeness, the smell of bread and soup and pie and cookies. I still hear the piano on winter days, still see the waves lapping at the beach, and still smell the black dirt of the garden where we picked beans before dad took us to the state park.

I chose to move to Virginia. I chose to make that change from small town of 5,000 to a bigger city of 75,000. I’d say it’s a good choice – I got a great job, made wonderful friends, and met my husband!

But I never really accepted this place as my home.

When God opened the door to Virginia three years ago, I was excited about the possibilities. This week I was driving through our city when I realized something: ever since I arrived here, I’ve expected to leave.

I’ve lived like a tourist for three years. I’ve looked up cool spots, visited fun places, and attended some events. I joined clubs and churches. But in my heart I refused to accept this city as where God intended me to be. No God, this can’t be it. This isn’t home. As soon as I’ve finished what I’ve come to do here, I’m leaving. So I never really put my bags down… Never really let the roots grow.

We often think, if we accept our situation as God’s plan, we’re affirming that this is His permanent plan. We think we have to reach this state of contentment to get to the next ‘blessing’. Yet we are afraid: afraid if we become ‘content’ (whatever that looks like) God might maximize on the opportunity and keep us stuck here for the rest of our lives.

‘Here’ being singleness, a specific job, your city, or whatever your current struggle may be.

We think if we stop and embrace this place, this moment, God might say, “Well great! She likes it here! I won’t bother to move her after all.” So we float on top of our circumstances, never really investing, never really showing up for anything – always ready to pick up and leave.

Then we blame our life situation for the disconnection we feel.

“This city! It never feels like home. I don’t know anyone and I can’t get connected!”

“This singleness! I’m always lonely and have no one to join me in life.”

Discontent is deceiving.

We think we’re protecting ourselves by withholding. We think we’re numbing the pain of departure by never really being here. But in truth, we’re numbing ourselves to the real life of the present day. By trying to numb one pain, we cease to feel the full gamut of emotion we could have enjoyed.

Contentment is not a state of being. It’s moment-by-moment choice.

We don’t arrive at a plateau of contentment, check in at God’s kiosk and automatically receive husband/job/community. Contentment is a journey that ends only in death… or rather, in eternal life.

If you had asked me three weeks ago, “Are you content here, Phylicia?” I’d have readily affirmed that I was. I have a great apartment, job, husband, and pretty swell life in general. But I’ve always had that gnawing hollow in my heart, that sense of not belonging, not wanting to be here. And if I was honest with myself, I’d have also realized I was a little peeved at God for leaving me in a city where no one seems to want to stay.

Until it hit me: I am one of those people.

I’m the leaving kind. I’m the quitter. I’m the one that doesn’t put down roots because I’m afraid of being transplanted.

But an interesting thing about transplants: they have to have roots. Goldenrod is a top-heavy wildflower, pretty to look at, but easy to pull up. It doesn’t have a root system. Planting it somewhere else rarely works – the flower suffers and dies. But sage has a root system to be reckoned with: it digs into the dirt, winds around rocks, and ties itself to the ground it’s given. When you transplant it, you have to cut through some of those roots. But in its new location, you can rest assured the plant will grow.

Contentment puts down roots in today, fully knowing the pain-risk of future transplantation. Contentment takes faith in God’s goodness and His provision. It is accepting the place God has us now without ceasing to hope for the future.

God knows our heart’s desires; He isn’t standing there with an anvil, ready to drop it on our dreams. But He is calling us to a deeper faith-walk with Him. Our circumstances can drive us crazy or drive us to Grace; that’s our choice. That’s the choice I have to make when I miss my storybook childhood and start to resent a constantly morphing city.

1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” Why do you think that is?

I think it’s because contentment forces faith. As we press toward God in the ‘less than desirable’ circumstances, our godliness deepens. Roots are growing.

I was standing in the downtown of our city when I had this contentment epiphany. And, like the true Type-A person that I am, I decided to start a project.

“It’s called “Embrace Lynchburg”,” I crowed to Mr. M. “I am going to finally accept this as my home.” So of course I went to the bank and grabbed all the free local magazines I could find, like any rational person would do.

As silly as it sounds, the ‘project’ opened my eyes. I suddenly saw people not as strangers, but as my neighbors. It was as if a great shift had happened in my heart; like I was seeing the world through new eyes. The people, the streets, the stores – it is no longer a stranger’s world. It is my world. It’s not my Michigan hometown. But it is God’s place for me, for a specific purpose, at this specific time. It doesn’t matter if people leave: I can give my all in the time they’re here.

The contentment journey – chosen day by day, hour by hour – leads us into eternal life. But it is also our source of abundant life. John 10:10 says,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Discontent is a thief: it steals joy, it kills opportunity, and it destroys our faith. But when we accept this place as God’s intention, and press close to Him in the crucible of pain, we know real, abundant life: life without numbness. Life that’s not ‘safe’.

When we embrace the place God has us in faith He knows our hearts, we live powerfully. Like Jim Elliott said: ‘Wherever you are, be all there.” Discontent robs us of that privilege.

Don’t let it steal from you anymore.

Other posts about Contentment:

The Ring, the Bling, and the Next Big Thing

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