Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

We’re only here for whipping cream. I first looked for it at Costco since it is usually in the dairy section there, but this time it was nowhere to be found. I had to make another stop at another store with a parade of kids behind me. While they’re exiting the minivan, I make them stand on the white line that separates the parking spaces. It makes me laugh when they naturally line up in order of height. As we go, I look like a mother duck and her ducklings; quite a sight for the city-dwellers around who can’t seem to hide their incredulous expressions at the length of our line. It is equal parts thrill and chore to get through the aisles of a store with all six in tow for one item. I have to lead the way and simultaneously mind the line so no one strays or knocks merchandise off of shelves as we go by. It’s not the easiest job, but I have learned to be at peace with the work it takes to accomplish anything with a bursting nest…most of the time.

In a few days, we will be in full feasting mode, and the preparations for Thanksgiving Day has me reflecting in the quiet of my heart. I ponder the merits of having not only a thankful heart, but going a little bit further to cultivate full-fledged contentment. It seems like the two ideas could be the same, but in my mind gratitude is a start, and contentment is a deep space where profound peace resides.

A brief look at the differences: Gratitude is a currency—something I offer in response to gifts received—but honestly, I can say thanks all day long and still harbor hidden feelings of envy and bitterness about my life and what I don’t have. I can outwardly feast and inwardly feed dark things in my soul that erode my joy. In contrast, contentment doesn’t allow such an internal conflict to persist, because it is not a currency like gratitude.

Contentment is a posture.

It can be practiced in every kind of circumstance. I can cultivate contentment even when the extremities of my life exist in tension—joys and heartaches intermingled in the same space. I recognize that cultivating contentment is merely embracing the truth of what is in front of me, joys and challenges alike.

For many people the joy of this season is laced with anxiety, loneliness, relational struggles, and heartaches of all different kinds—troubles carefully hidden behind the shiny things, twinkling lights, and warm greetings. I have experienced all of these things over the years, and even though I am currently in a sweet season with my crew, I find that holidays still seem to paw at my tender heart spaces. It’s the pause between the action that gets me; the reminiscing, the longing for restoration in relationships, the acknowledgment that even while everything around me is beautiful, I still find it a challenge to celebrate every moment because some moments are just plain hard.

Contentment means I own what is true in my life and see the value in it, whether the season I am in is full of joy or full of challenges, or an odd mix of the two. It means choose not to waste my energy trying to escape what is before me, but instead engage it and work through it, believing that God has a purpose for allowing each season. I struggle to find contentment when I am looking for something tangible to hold tight in my fingers that makes me feel like I am in control of things I am actually not in control of. Contentment means I lay my heart wide open to receive what God gives, and I remain open to the strength, encouragement, and guidance He supplies daily as I commune with Him, whether or not my daily reality is bright and shiny.

Contentment is an invitation to embrace what I have been given, even if those things are not what that I expected or wanted.  Contentment is seeing the purpose in my present situation. What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I give thanks for even the challenges I have in front of me?

Contentment is being present in this moment. Instead of dwelling in the past and the sorrows of yesterday, I am awake to the opportunities to love today. Instead of looking into the distant future and all the not-yet things, I am tuned in to the blessings that hedge me in. I have a roof over my head. I have warm (albeit well-worn) slippers on my feet. I have the noise of happy children around me as I continue sorting out my journey with the Lord in the humble spaces, doing the unglamorous but faithful things.

Contentment is not static. It is an active, intentional cultivation of gratitude in this moment. Contentment is an open-heartedness that lets beauty in and lets stress, pressure, disappointment, and struggle out.

Contentment means I recognize that the nagging pang of inadequacy, and the need for “more” of whatever I don’t have—is a foe that is deliberately working to undermine my joy and my ability to fulfill the purpose of my life with intention.

We struggle to find contentment because we erroneously believe that to cultivate or embrace contentment is to say something akin to “everything is right in the world”. Certainly everything is not right in the world. However, cultivating contentment is a way of saying that in my small space, and my small life, I recognize that the blessings afforded to me are extravagant in comparison to many people and I am grateful for them—even though I may also still struggle to reconcile other things in my heart.

Contentment doesn’t mean I have no further goals or desires. It doesn’t mean that I feel total peace at every moment. It means that in this moment, I choose to shut out the noise and strong messages coming from everywhere that I need more, more more. It means that I acknowledge that who I am and what I have are enough to find a measurable amount of peace right here and right now.

Contentment means I pause to account for the endless gifts in my life that I can easily overlook when I’m plunged deep into worry.

Contentment is a recognition that the things I don’t have, weight I have not lost, the brokenness in relationships that has not been restored, the emotional, mental, or physical challenges I have faced—do not define my value, do not define my success or failure, and do not change the reality that God’s mercy is new every morning. All of the above things do not preclude me from giving thanks for the smallest things in my life that fill the empty pangs in my soul, even if only momentarily at times. I can struggle and still stretch my heart open to receive from God the good things He gives.

Contentment is a way of celebrating tiny milestones, and if practiced faithfully, contentment is a sure way out of despair, discouragement, and disconnection, just not always in a timeframe that suits my sensibilities.

Instead of looking down at the mud I stand in (sometimes up to my hips), it means turning my face upward to the sky in gratitude for the rain that falls, washing away what is not needed and nourishing my roots that are stretching down deep in the soil, growing stronger all the time.

Today, I invite you to turn your face up and open your arms wide. You might still feel the mud at your feet, but do you also feel the rain?

“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:7

1271. the full and good season I’m in, 1272. my ever-faithful husband, 1273. visitors coming, 1274. simplicity, 1275. steadily regaining strength, 1276. toddler conversations, 1277. helpful children, 1278. super deal on a nice dress, 1279. chubby baby hands with a really strong grip, 1280. writing time and new writing friends

5 Comments Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

  1. Cory-Lynn Hatton

    Lovely. Thanks for these great truths. I love the way you unpack the reality of what contentment is. I’ll be reflecting on this over weekend as I put up all those shiny Christmas things.

    Reply
  2. Erin

    Thanks so much for sharing. Well said. I have been challenged lately in my contentness and this was a good reminder for the soul!

    Reply

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