What is contentment?
It's a beautiful thing. It's what everyone desires, and it seems we will do whatever it takes to get it. Contentment - to be free from care because of satisfaction with what is already one's own. It is inward satisfaction; a habit or permanent state of mind.
Contentment is a habit of choice.
Our lives are abundant in choices. We make honest ones and dishonest ones. Smart choices and stupid choices. Most of them are based on feelings, and in my experience, those are usually the ones that end in disaster. Sometimes we are at points in our lives where we have no idea what we should do. Our next breath is another moment we have no choice but to trust that God is in control. My mom said to me the other day, "If we knew what our future would bring, we couldn't handle it." Imagine if in your future you saw you would die in a few years by getting burned alive. What would that do to your present? Would it make you fearful or at peace? Would it grow you or hinder you? We obviously wouldn't be able to understand it. We would constantly be living in fear, questioning and begging God for a different outcome. What's funny, is we still do this, even though we don't know our future. We beg for a different circumstance. For God to take away the pain and the hardship, thinking this will bring contentment to our lives. When he doesn't, we start compensating for our unfulfilled desires with money, success, hobbies, distractions of all kinds. The more we desire, the more we become unfulfilled, because, in reality, we're trying to fill a void that cannot be filled with things. So how can start to be content habitually?
Contentment is choosing to be satisfied with your current state no matter what. It is NOT satisfaction or complacency in circumstances, experiences or things.
Let me ask you this. Have you ever had a positive experience, been through a good circumstance, bought that thing you've always wanted, that left you saying, "I am finally content?" Seriously think about it. Are you to this day content because of this particular happenstance? Probably not. I find myself having thoughts like, 'When I am in a better circumstance, I will be better off.' It's a typical human reaction to something that we are going through that is not easy. So what is our solution, if we as humans can never reach a feeling of contentment?
Contentment is NOT a feeling.
Can you honestly trust your feelings? I know I will be unpopular in saying this, but our feelings are fallible! They are not to be trusted. How many times have you screwed up because you "felt" a certain way? I can say, from personal circumstances that I have done this many times. As a woman, my feelings are the first to be acknowledged in my mind. I even think men do this as well, but they explain away their feelings, disguising them as logic. Nope. Pretty much the same thing. Men feel, A LOT, they just don't tell you about it. Our feelings are unable to be controlled. If we feel something, it's not because we decided to feel that way, but it's just apart of us. It's not bad, it's actually wonderful. I love my feelings! Not necessarily the bad ones, but still, it makes me who I am. It's very important, though, to put feelings in a category where they belong. Before they bring us to make decisions, they first need to be filtered. How? Through prayer. The only times I have "succeeded" in resolving a fight with my husband, is when I paused, told him I needed some space, and left to go pray. What happened? My feelings subsided, and I was then able to think logically. So, I have just debunked feelings as a state of contentment. How? Feelings are not to be trusted. Even though you feel as though you aren't content, doesn't mean that it is true.
Why contentment is a choice.
Have you heard the statement, love is a choice, not a feeling? If you have, you may agree with it, or not. I am coming from an angle of definitely agreeing with it. What do you think the number one reasons people are divorced? Google it. It all has to do with circumstances, unmet expectations, and feelings. Infidelity, abuse, money, jealousy, no longer in love. As there are valid reasons for divorce, I don't think "I just don't love you anymore" should be one of them. Here's what love is.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 New International Version (NIV)
"4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
How weird would it be if, at a wedding, these verses were read aloud by someone, then at the end, the person reading said, "But only if you feel it!"
I believe that the feeling of love should be the result of a choice to love, not the other way around. When you feel love for someone, it's different than choosing to love them. It's the same thing when it comes to something like contentment. Just because you don't feel content, doesn't mean you can't choose to be content. It's taking action, instead of reacting to a feeling.
How am I to be content, then?
I think we first need to realize that in and of ourselves, we cannot be content. It's impossible. Sorry to burst your bubble, but look and your life and ask yourself, "Was I ever content?" If you are or were, I would love to hear your side of it! But for me, the only reason I have ever been content is the result of one source. In the verse posted above, I believe the last sentence about covers it. Trust God. Trust that because he loves you, he will give you the strength you need to overcome your difficult circumstances. He is our source of strength. Your failing marriage, the death of a child, diagnosis of cancer, getting sexually assaulted, abused, etc.
How do we trust him? Start with gratitude. Gratitude. Be thankful, no matter the circumstance. Your thinking will start to change. In any and every circumstance, whether good or bad, be thankful. It's so easy, right!? Nope. It's hard.
You see, people think contentment comes easy. They think it should come from their circumstances. If I do A, then I will get B. If I just had more money, then I would be okay. If I had a more satisfying job or a better marriage, blah blah blah. Stop expecting and start thanking.
One important thing to know is that no human is perfect. It is simply impossible to hold yourself to a standard to always feel contentment or choose to be content. It will stress you out and probably lead to depression and anxiety. Strive for gratitude and everything will flow from that.
That's all I have to say on that. Here's where I'm at in all of this, and let me tell you what. I don't "feel" content with my life, but I shouldn't let that determine my choices.
Today is a day where I am not sure what my next steps will be in life. I cannot sift through my feelings because every single feeling I have is in exact contradiction with itself. Twenty different emojis couldn't even possibly suffice to describe them. So, I have no other choice, but to trust God. This is a good place to be. Never in my life have I felt so conflicted, broken, joyful, sad, and at the same time content. It's strange. I look at this verse that Paul wrote and I never understood it before. I have always had one foot out the door when it came to trust or contentment. I lived in what if's and if only's based on my feelings. I always had some way of controlling it, which gave me an empty fulfillment, that satisfied me for a moment. Never have I felt such turmoil, but at the same time, had such peace, because I know that God will give me the strength. Contentment, in other words, is trust. It is faith, admitting you have no idea what the future holds and being absolutely okay with it. It is being thankful, no matter what. It is admitting you cannot do this life alone. It is making those choices, not because we feel like it. I can be content, but at the same time feel like I am in a tangled web of trials.
Take heart, because the trials you face are growing you, changing you and making you into a better person, if you so choose. You will find contentment when you realize it is not a feeling, but a choice. Sure, one can "feel" content, but that feeling will most definitely pass. When it does, don't lose heart. Just trust.