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This is perhaps the most challenging, most important lesson I’ve learned in my adult life: discontentment follows you.
There was a time when I thought “I’ll be happy when x happens.” Or, “When y happens, I’ll feel content.” Or most dangerously, “I won’t be peaceful or joyful until z happens.” (I wrote more about this line of thinking here.) The hard truth is that contentment cannot be based on circumstances, and if I’m discontent when I’m in a valley season, I will also be discontent when I’m in a mountaintop season. When we get what we want, our discontentment won’t evaporate. It won’t. Discontentment follows us.
Good circumstances can mask discontentment
I believe that good circumstances often mask discontentment. But masking a problem doesn’t make it disappear, does it? In my life, my years living in Austin were years of good circumstances. I loved my city, I had a huge community, my work was important and fulfilling, I liked my apartment…the list goes on. If I’d been asked, I would’ve told you that I was completely content.
But then, I got married and moved four hours north. I gave up the city I loved and moved to a tiny, nothing town. I gave up the community I loved and faced desperate loneliness. I gave up my job and started building my own business (fulfilling, but really hard). You get the idea. Everything changed overnight, literally. And suddenly I was completely discontent.
The contentment I experienced while living in Austin was outer contentment. The things of this world–the things of my world–were exactly in place. There was no reason for me to reflect inwardly and ask whether my soul was content because I was too distracted by being content in my situation and circumstances. This, I’ve learned, is a dangerous place to live.
Because when all of my circumstances changed, all of my contentment disappeared.
This is why I felt like I wasn’t Blair anymore. This is why I felt like a shell of a woman, almost like I didn’t recognize myself. This is why I was miserable, miserable, miserable. Overnight, all of my contentment was gone and replaced with a yearning for the past, an obsession with changing my situation, a deep mourning for yesteryear.
Inner contentment, I’ve come to learn, is infinitely harder than outer contentment. Inner contentment is being pleased and at peace regardless of situation or circumstance. For me, it’s been looking at my life, so different than I thought it’d be, and choosing to be pleased with it. To be grateful for our small, nothing town. To cherish my teeny, tiny group of friends. To choose joy and peace over frustration and anxiety.
“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:11-13
When all was said and done–when everything that “made me content” was stripped away from me–the truth was that Jesus was not my contentment in Austin. And so, when my life situation changed, so changed my joy, peace, faith, and steadfastness.
I have lived this for close to three solid years, and it’s truly been the hardest lesson of my life. My posture toward the Lord has often been:
God, just one friend. If you’d just give me one friend I’d be content!
Help me with my business. If it grows, I’ll be happy.
Open a door for us to move, Lord. If I don’t have to live here, I’ll be joyful again.
Sound familiar? The truth is that these are dangerous, dangerous lies. When a clause is put on peace, joy, or contentment, we’re not operating under the freedom of Christ. His death on the cross set me completely free and poured forgiveness, grace, mercy, joy, peace, and unshakable contentment over my spirit. I need only claim these things over my Christian walk and life. (This isn’t easy, but it’s true and possible.)
Combatting the lies
The reason why this lesson has been so gritty and challenging for me to learn is that my clauses–the little “if this happens, I’ll be content” clauses–feel really real! They feel true! But as my pastor says nearly every Sunday morning, “Feelings are great servants but tyrannical masters.” Reality check: feelings don’t determine truth.
- If you think, “I don’t feel at home here. If I move, I’ll feel content,” remember: “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name” (Hebrews 13:14-21). As Rebekah Lyons says, “Home is wherever God is, and God is ever with me.”
- If you think, “I’m lonely. If I had friends, I’d feel content,” remember: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Loneliness has been the most painful and piercing piece of this journey, but I can honestly say that Jesus has not left me.
- If you think, “This person/situation/circumstance makes me feel anxious, nervous, and afraid. If it were taken from me, I’d be content,” remember: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). This is my current favorite verse. How powerful!
Contentment is available to you RIGHT NOW. Today. In this moment. True inner contentment can never be sustained if it depends on circumstances. Circumstances are volatile and ever-changing; Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Listen, I am not saying this is easy! As I’ve noted, this is by far the hardest journey I’ve encountered in my Christian walk because it requires a daily choice to be pleased with my current situation–no ifs, whens, or other clauses attached. On my hard days, I still go through a mental list of what would need to change for me to be content. But I’m growing, and stretching, and learning the truth about contentment–and it’s setting me free!
Discontentment will follow you
Looking back, I can see all the ways I was discontent in my soul when I lived in Austin. Even though my life circumstances were “perfect,” my heart was striving. When I moved, discontentment followed me. And as much as I wanted to pack up and move away from my new life in the early months of marriage, I now know that my discontentment would’ve followed me then too. Moving likely would’ve masked the symptoms, but I would still be without deep inner contentment.
No matter where I live, how many or few friends I have, how much or little money I make, how great or terrible my house, car, whatever is–contentment is available to me. If I’m discontent, I’ll be discontent even after I’ve gotten what I wanted. Discontentment follows you.
Joy in the journey
All this is not to say that personal growth and positive circumstantial changes are a bad thing or an enemy to contentment! Not at all. I love watching my business grow month over month, year over year, but my personal peace is not dependent on it. I love that I’ve met a couple of friends in town and the sting of loneliness has lessened over time, but my joy doesn’t hinge on these relationships. I love that my marriage is solid and strong, but when Riley and I struggle, my contentment isn’t shattered.
Being content today is a choice; so will it be a choice to be content tomorrow. Finding joy in the journey–true inner contentment everyday–is where I choose to live. I hope and pray that the difficult circumstances I face today change and improve over time. I long for the day when Gainesville feels like home, but until then, I choose to be pleased and content. Today. Just as my life is. And I am freer than I’ve ever been.
Resources: Healed and Set Free Devotional (about 80% through with this now; it is powerful!) – affiliate link
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