Learning to be Content

Maybe it's the planner in me, but I have always been one to look ahead to the next thing. When I was younger, I couldn't wait to be ten years old. That turned into being thirteen, then sixteen, then eighteen. As I got older, that didn't change, instead, my planning became worse. I was counting down to everything. I couldn't wait for Christmas Break. I couldn't wait for Summer Break. I couldn't wait until I could see Dan again. I had become completely obsessed with counting down the days, rather than just enjoy each passing day.

In the last semester of my senior year of college, I ran into my RA and gleefully exclaimed X number of days until graduation. She laughed and said, "You need to stop counting down the days because you're going to miss out on today if you keep looking to the future. Be content in the present."

At the time, I thought she was crazy. Who didn't want to get out of college and start life in the "real world"? Now, I realize that she was right... at least about being content in the present.

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Nine days after my college graduation, I got married and didn't just ease my way into the "real world." No, I dove right in, head first. And I was in for a whole new ball game. Those first several months of marriage were difficult. I didn't have a job. We didn't have a lot of money. And we were trying to figure out the new normal together. I was easily frustrated and discouraged during this time and found myself wandering into the land of "I wish."

  • I wish I had a job.
  • I wish we had more money.
  • I wish our backyard didn't look like crap. Well, if we had more money, we could get our backyard sodded. But we don't have the money.
  • I wish we could go on another trip like those people. They look like they have fun all the time.
  • I wish I got a different degree. Maybe I would have a job if I studied business. What crazy person gets a BA In English? Oh, right. Me.

I was teetering on the brink of discontent. I became so desperate for a job that I applied at my alma mater, something I swore would be Plan Z. Well, Plan A through K didn't work and I was too impatient and my husband was too worried for me to keep plowing through the alphabet. I jumped into Plan Z. They offered me a position as an administrative assistant which I immediately agreed to.

I thought that things would start turning around. But the job wasn't what I had envisioned. The plan was for me to take over for another employee in that specific department while she was on maternity leave. However, due to my work status, I was not allowed to take over her position, even temporarily. And thus, I became the "gopher" (if you've never heard that term, it's basically the errand runner-- "go for this, go for that."). In my mind, I did not just get a four year bachelors degree to be an "errand girl." I did that as an undergrad, which was fine, but I wanted to get into my "real adult life" job. How would running errands be a resume builder?! And my attitude started to crumble inside.

I found myself sinking further into a state of discontent. I wasn't happy with my job, but I couldn't quit because I couldn't find anything else in town. We couldn't move because my husband was still finishing his undergrad degree. I felt stuck.

It didn't help that I didn't have any friends. The friends I had from high school and college had either moved away or were busy with finishing their college careers. I didn't have very many friends at church. And because most of the people I worked with could practically be my mother, I had no friends at work. I was so lonely and unhappy.

Being married was fine, but my husband was so incredibly busy that we barely did anything together. He was working, doing and internship and was finishing up three classes in order to graduate that semester. I remember thinking that I wished he weren't so busy and that I wished he graduated with me, a semester earlier.

Church began to become a chore. People were being overly pushy and lacked the understanding that I was now an adult as they were used to seeing me as the thirteen-year-old daughter of my parents. I dreaded going to church and was soon barely listening to any of the sermons.

By this point I had completely sunk into the ocean of discontent and started swimming to the land of "I Wish" again.

  • I wish I had a different job. I wish I studied something different in college. I wish I had something better to do with my life than waste my life away here.
  • I wish my old friends would move back home.
  • I wish that my other friends would include me in things. Just because I'm married, doesn't mean I'm jailed to my house. I wish they would understand that.
  • I wish people weren't so annoying at church. I wish people would stop pressuring us to "get involved. I wish they'd see me as an adult. Hello!? I'm a college graduate and they still think I live at home. Even though I'm freaking married!
  • I wish we could move. There's nothing to do in this town.
  • I wish Dan weren't so busy.
  • I wish this year would just hurry up and end.

The list went on and on and on. Life was miserable. I was miserable. I tortured myself looking at the perfect Pinterest life and the perfect Facebook life wishing that my life were better. I was making my life miserable by letting myself become so discontent with life. I was so wrapped up with this fake perfect imaginary life that I was missing out on the small blessings of the everyday.

About four months after I started my job, God brought a few ladies into my life whose love for life and for God just radiated. They were so joyous. All. The. Time. I started to crave that desire to be happy because they were always happy. As I got to know them individually, I realized that they all had one thing in common. Despite their pasts, despite their current situations, they were content with their lives. They weren't dwelling on the past and they weren't obsessing with the future. They were all living the day to day life, happy as can be. And things that I would have considered "bad" or "terrible," they all seemed to brush off as though it weren't a big deal. I remember one girl was talking about a horrible experience she had over the weekend and she wrapped it up with a laugh and said, "Well, it could have been worse."

Wow. Just wow.

I started to do a reality check. I needed pause and reflect on this miserableness I was putting myself through.

I was looking for contentment in all the wrong places. I was looking for contentment and happiness in my marriage. My job. My circumstances. I was looking for contentment and happiness everywhere... except in the Lord.

I realized if I wasn't content then and if I kept searching for contentment in the wrong places, nothing, absolutely nothing, would make me content or happy. Not a new job, not a promotion, not a new church-- NOTHING bring contentment. I was walking around miserable and that, my friends, is no way to live. 

I started looking up verses on contentment and the Lord started bringing to mind different circumstances others had been through and the joy that radiated through their lives. And the Holy Spirit started to work. He started to really prick my soul. 

Philippians 4:11 - Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, [therewith] to be content.
I Timothy 6:6-7 - But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

I surrendered. I had a nice long talk with the Lord about my attitude and lack of contentment and I asked for His forgiveness. I was so caught up in myself that my focus had shifted off of the Lord and the blessings He had given me. I gave it all to Him. I was no longer going to keep looking and searching out the next best thing to happen in life. I was going to stop chasing the "five-year and ten-year plan." I was going to stop traveling to the land of "I wish" and I was going to stop coveting the perfect Pinterest life. I was going to be content with my job, even if I didn't like where I worked or what I did. I was going to stop complaining and most of all, I was going to start counting my blessings.

I started by finding the good in the "negativity."

  • I may not like my job or what I do, but I am blessed to have a wonderful and caring boss.
  • I may not like where I work, but I am thankful that I have a job that gives us an extra income. I am also thankful that they hired my husband to work because now commute and have lunch together.
  • I may not like where we live, but I am thankful that I do have family that surrounds us.
  • I may not appreciate the pressure people put on me at church, but I am blessed to know that they just care.
  • I may have felt lonely and friendless, but the Lord did put people in my life for this season to show me that my life doesn't revolve around me. They showed me where to find contentment and that is in Christ.

After purposefully finding the positive in every situation, I worked on ONLY finding the positive in the situation. I was going to stop thinking about the negative and only focus on what the good was. And that was hard! With the Lord's help, I focused on training my mind to only focus on the blessing.

That's not to say that I started ignoring the negative. We can't look at life through rose-colored glasses. We still need to recognize the reality of life and sometimes that reality is cold and harsh. I decided not to focus so much on the negativity because it was a stumbling block to my spirit. I wanted my focus to stay on the Lord and His blessings.

It was the same about thinking about the future. I still thought about the future. I still had dreams, goals, and desires, but I stopped obsessing and solely focusing on only the future. I shifted my focus to the here-and-now and the blessings of today. I no longer have a five-year or ten-year plan because God holds our future. He knows exactly how our lives will play out, so why plan and obsess over something that may not be in the cards?

In focusing on the positive, the blessings, and the here-and-now, my attitude started to change and I found myself at ease. I had peace. I found joy. And with that came contentment. It's been nearly five years since that season and I often pray that the Lord keeps my mind focused on Him because it is not always easy.

Friends, if you are struggling in this area, I want to let you know that I am praying for you. Let me urge you to take your struggles to the Lord and let Him work in your hearts and lives. Ask Him to show you the good and His blessings. And finally trust Him to take care of you and your needs.