Have you ever seen the movie UP? You know, the one about the elderly man who decides to turn his house into a hot air balloon and sail down to South America? Well, one of my favorite characters in that story is the dog named Doug. Now what's special about Doug is that he loves everyone, but is easily distracted. He could be in the middle of a conversation with someone when he would stop, point his nose in a different direction, and shout "squirrel!". Often, I feel like that. I like sparkly, shiny, new things that often become my "squirrels". "Ooh! Look at this new shirt - I just absolutely have to have it - I would get so much use out of it" or "this serving dish is perfect - it's just what I've needed" or "this sign would go so lovely in our guest room - it's beautiful!". I love whatever is new or whatever is an upgrade or whatever is better. As I've gotten older, so have my squirrels - a new apartment, a new car, a new kitchen gadget, etc. It almost always fits into the thought line of "my life would be so much better if....". What constitutes as better?
As I've been reflecting on this idea of squirrels, I've been thinking a lot about contentment. The Lord has blessed me with a Husband who is content wherever he is and is rarely swayed by squirrels, which is a wonderful balance to my mess of trails where I have gone off chasing squirrels. Where does contentment come from? And what is the opposite of contentment? Greed? dis-satisfaction? un-gratefulness?
Discontentment comes into play when we are no longer satisfied with what we have; when we view something else as better than what we have. At this point, we have failed to keep our eyes on our own path and strayed to gaze at a squirrel. Now I don't think there is any harm in gazing at squirrels. I think they can often be pretty, fun to look at, and even adventurous to feed from a distance. After all, God created them too. However, discontentment will lead you to begin to follow that squirrel, and focus on what you do not have. We are instructed in the scriptures not to covet our neighbor's things - yet discontentment will lead you to do exactly that. If you follow that squirrel long enough, it will lead you off the path that the Lord had put you on and it may be near impossible to return to that path again.
As a woman, it is especially hard to be content. I think that we naturally just tend to want what's next, what's new, what Mrs. So-and-so has. But when we focus on what's coming up, we fail to realize what we already have.
Paul wrote in Philippians,
"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 things through Him who gives me strength" (4:12-13).
So how do we reach a spirit of contentment as opposed to a spirit of longing? I think there are a few things to be noted.
First, Ann Voskamp wrote a book called "One Thousand Gifts". Inside it's pages, she writes about the idea that contentment first stems from gratitude. When you learn to be grateful in any and every situation for what the Lord has already blessed you with, it's harder to focus on what He hasn't. Earlier in chapter 4, Paul writes "I rejoice in the Lord always". Do we rejoice in the Lord? Do we rejoice in what He's given us? Every single good and perfect gift comes from above (James 1:17), so we have already been abundantly blessed by our Lord. A place to live. A car to drive. A bus to take. Food to eat. A friend to call. A church to attend. A flower to smell. Children to love. Parents to respect. A life to live. These are all good gifts that have been given to us - do you even realize how blessed you are? I know that I often don't. It's so much harder to be amazed by the squirrels that lie directly in my path rather than the ones that are off in the distance. If Doug had been walking along in South America and stepped over a squirrel, and then exclaimed "look, a squirrel!", I don't think he would have been nearly as interesting of a character. Just saying.
Second, I think that contentment stems from trust. Do we trust that the Lord has given us what we need? Paul wrote that he could do all things through "Him who gives me strength". So do we trust that the Lord has equipped us for what He has called us to, and has given us what we need? Do we trust that, in time, the Lord will bring us some lovely pretty squirrels that lie in our path for us to enjoy, as opposed to running off our path to find the squirrels in another path? "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding". The Lord can see our entire trail, not just the one section that we see. He strategically places squirrels (and good gifts) for us to encounter in time, so can we trust in His goodness? Can we be patient enough to wait for our squirrels?
Third, I think that contentment stems from faithfulness. When we chase after squirrels, we have a hard time remaining faithful to our path. We can't have our cake and eat it too. The servant in Matthew 25 was told "‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’" When we are faithful with what He has given us, He will entrust more to us. But notice, each servant in Matthew 25 was entrusted with a different amount. We are not entrusted or given the same things as our fellow brothers and sisters. We are each given different things, and yet are called to remain faithful with those things. If we can choose to remain faithful where the Lord has planted us, I think that we can also learn to be content (and maybe even happy - I don't want to go too far here though ;) ) where He has planted us.
So here is my question for you - what would it look like for you to learn to be content in whatever the circumstance, as Paul says? Do you need to learn to be grateful for what you have? Do you need to learn to trust in His timing? Do you need to learn to strive faithfully? Or maybe a little bit of each? I know that I need to learn to be grateful and trust in His timing and strive faithfully. And my prayer is that as I purpose to learn each of these, our Heavenly Father will teach me to be able to say that "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation".
PS: And if you are already a content person (like my husband), or are unaware that you are a discontent person, I would recommend that you don't ask the Lord to teach you contentment - it's not an easy lesson! :)