“So – when are you guys getting married?” The friendly question was extended with every intention of kindness, but I swallowed it like razorblade soup.
“We aren’t sure yet,” I responded. “We want to have everything in order first.”
I excused myself to the bathroom and stared back at myself in the mirror. Why does it bother you all of a sudden? I asked the girl looking at me. You and Josh are perfectly happy together, preparing for your future.
I put the toilet lid down and slouched on it, chin in hand. These feelings perturbed me; me, happy with the man I’d hoped for. But I knew why it bugged me.
Prior to getting engaged to Josh, I was asked on a weekly – even daily – basis when we were getting married. It was summer in Lynchburg, a Christian college town: the worst place to be and the worst time to be there when you aren’t engaged or married. If you aren’t HAVING a wedding you should be PLANNING one or talking about the one you had last year.
I was not displeased with the questions I was asked. I was happy for the girls who were getting married and I am glad for those who are engaged. What I was unhappy about is the response my heart was having to my situation. My old friend was paying a visit: discontent.
I thought back to the days when I was single. It seemed as if contentment was that evasive virtue I only learned the hard way. I was learning dependence, when in walked Josh! So there I was, weeks before getting engaged (though I did not know this), blessed beyond measure with a gift many girls long for, and discontent was knocking at my door again.
Go away! I wanted to yell at the unwelcome feeling. Find someone else to bother!
The deceitfulness of sin, and discontent in particular, persuades us to think once we gain something we will be finally happy. Whether that is a new job, a husband, or new living arrangements, we believe If only my circumstance were different, I would be so much happier. Once things change, I can have joy. For years in my own life, that thing was a ring.
The ring was my ticket to a man who loved me. It was the way I would identify with love songs. It was how I’d have my own home to make and how I’d eventually have children. My career, writing, and ministry for many years was my ‘holding pattern’ for the Real Deal. I spent much time waiting for this next big thing! I learned a lot in those years and gained many professional and personal skills that I still use today. In fact, those years launched me from Michigan to Virginia to New Mexico and back, building my resume, getting me jobs, and giving me a platform to my current ministry. All good things, right?
But through it all, I didn’t always have real joy. I allowed discontent to rob me of that freedom.
I’ll be honest: my romance with Josh is the stuff of movies. On our first unofficial date he ran a mile and half through the rain to get a car for myself, my friend, and his sister, and arrived back just in time for the rain to stop. I still recall him standing in the street outside CVS Pharmacy, rain dripping off his nose and shirt, holding an umbrella under a blue sky.
Shouldn’t such selfless love make me content?
And for my birthday one year, Josh gave me a diamond and gold necklace. I loved how it sparkled on my neck when I wore it, but after a few months, I wanted more bling than a necklace. Everyone else was getting married, but God seemed to be holding us back. Everyone was asking me when we were getting engaged. “Tell them you haven’t asked me yet,” growled Josh when I told him.
This is all really nice God, but the novelty has worn off. What’s next?
Perhaps you are waiting for your true love. Perhaps you’re waiting on a new job. Perhaps you’re waiting for a strained relationship to change. Regardless of what you’re waiting for, the point of the wait is not the object you anticipate but the waiting itself. This process is your sanctification. ‘What’s next’ defeats that purpose.
Josh makes me happy – and has made me happy over all our six years of marriage – but he can never make me content. Contentment is a choice enabled by God’s work in my heart. There were days, when married to Josh, that our house felt small and our jobs made us weary and in those moments I had a choice: wish for better, or remember, this is what I used to wish for. I am living my dream. I’m in the future I prayed for.
A verse we all know well is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Taken out of context as it typically is, this verse is usually applied to tough situations we are trying to overcome. But in context, Paul was exhorting the Philippians to contentment. See the context below:
“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:10-13)
Can I get an Amen? This means that our God gives strength specifically to those struggling to be content.
In his book The Most Misused Verse in the Bible, Eric Bargerhuff expounds on the power of Philippians 4:13 in its appropriate context:
“Oh, how life would be different if we tapped in to the spiritual strength that God provides so that we could quit worrying about our needs and find a real and lasting sense of contentment. No doubt we’d worry less and rejoice more. Perhaps a deeper sense of peace would guard our lives. We’d be less irritable, more optimistic, and focused on spiritual matters.” (Bargerhuff, 114)
God-enabled contentment frees us to enjoy the journey. We don’t need to worry about keeping up with those around us, meeting the expectations of our community, or reaching the ‘next big thing’. When we realize that the man, the job, or the ring might change our circumstances but not our spirit, we can turn our focus toward the One who will.
Picture Credit: Gabby Wigley Photography