“Discontentment will eat you alive.”
Brainstorming this list of lessons learned the hard way after college, that sentence was one of the first things I wanted to share.
But how, when I’m in the middle of learning it and so much else? When I’m often happiest when everyone else seems to think I should be miserable? When I have up and down days? I would love to give you to-dos and platitudes that will magically bless you with godly contentment every day of your gorgeous life, but I haven’t experienced that yet.
I can maybe tell you want not to do…? Ha.
Don’t bottle up discontentment, hoarding it away into a ticking time-bomb of expired expectations. So, try not to share every single unhappiness with just one person (i.e. husband, best friend, mom, coworker), neglecting to share and discuss emotions with the Lord, and also overwhelming that person. That’s a lot for anyone to handle. Try to take it to the Lord, raw and honest. Every once in a while when ALL THE FEELINGS circle around my mind like a bizzaro wagon train? If it’s possible for me to stop at a park on my way home from work and run or walk, and talk it out with the Lord first, that helps so much. That doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s good.
It’s hard, but, on a good day, I try not to dwell on what I’m dissatisfied with and instead set my mind on grace, God’s everlasting love for every last messy person, and God’s heart for broken humanity and ragamuffin lives. (Man, that is good news.) I try to think on whatever is good and true – not what I want to be true, or fear is true.
I can also tell you that it is possible to be happy in the midst of imperfect circumstances, and in the midst of surveying your imperfect attitudes and mistakes. It’s possible because God is there, with you, in whatever hot mess is happening, and the Lord sees and offers you comfort, relationship, and truth – not a bar to measure up to.
Much of the time, I fall short. Contentment is hard work some days. Some times it not. Some days waiting feels like a Herculean task.
For me, optimism and happiness come naturally with my personality. But cultivating actual, sturdy, daily contentment? Spending trusting time with the Lord? Not avoiding, behind a wall of busyness and internet distractions? Working hard where He has me, and really reigning in dissatisfied thoughts? Those can be much harder.
These are some little tricks I’ve learned about contentment recently…
Pray honest prayers. I think there is power and freedom in praying honestly; I think God wants you to share your whole self with Him, even your desperation and short-sightedness and grumpiness. (Or is that just me? Ha.)
DO talk to friends, wisely but honestly. I find over and over again that everyone is longing for something. (Yes, even your friend who has everything that you want – her life isn’t all lovely days and creativity and full bank accounts, I promise. Stop seeing her as a caricature of a perfect life, and have an actual conversation. Ask her questions; she’s got hopes differed, too.)
Everyone has hopes and dreams and unfulfilled longings.
And when we testify to each other that, yes, those gaps in our lives exist, but no, those gaps do not define us (!) – not our value or loved-ness or well-being or abilities – I think there’s freedom and solidarity there.
Also? Distract yourself. But that’s not exactly what I mean… you know that saying “critique by creating”? I think that can apply to life, too. That one circumstance that makes you feel unhappy when you selfishly dwell on it and mentally pick it apart? If it’s out of your control, or if it’s a waiting thing, something that works for me is to critique by creating – whatever you want to see happen in your life in that other circumstance, evaluate your heart and core desire behind that longing and then cultivate that in other areas of your life where you do have control. Does that make sense?
This is a bit messy, here in this post, and in my brain, because I’m only 26 and have about a million more things to learn. But I just want you to know that there is grace for you: grace to want, grace to give your longings room to breathe, and grace to run away from hurtful discontentment and instead towards honest relationship with Jesus, even in the midst of the middle and the waiting.