I’ve been thinking about contentment, expectations, and desire a lot lately. I think these three things all intertwine in our lives. Can we be content while also desiring other things? I think so, but I think that line is a very hard one to walk. To be content is to be “pleased and satisfied; not needing more” according to Merriam-Webster; or as the Google defined it, “in a state of peaceful happiness.” Someone who is content is pleased in their current state, they have all they need and that is what they want. In Christ, we have all that we need (even if we don’t realize we need it!) and our heart’s true, ultimate desire (whether we recognize that or not!). But what does that actually look like as we live out our lives?
It is not intrinsically wrong to desire things. If we didn’t, we would probably be robots. We have been created with desires–but just because we have desires does not mean that they are 1). Godly and good or 2). going to be met. I think the point where our desires become dangerous is when we feel entitled to have them fulfilled or we expect them to transpire. It is when we desire the gifts above the Giver and when we don’t trust Him who created the universe; when our desires are disordered they become distorted and lead to discontent.
I’ve seen in too many instances how certain expectations (particularly those that are unmet) lead to discontent and bitterness. As one AA saying goes, “An expectation is a pre-meditated resentment” –(found in Grace in Addiction by John Z, pg. 94). For example, I’ve found myself many times desiring deep friendships and community. In and of itself, that is not wrong. We are made to be in community and God has created us to be His body. But when I start expecting other people to fulfill something that is lacking in me or am not content with the people God has placed in my life, not appreciating and valuing them, then I am left angry, bitter, and honestly without many friends.
Another one I’ve seen with myself and so many single people is a desire to be married. I grew up hearing, “If God has put that desire in your heart then you are supposed to get married.” Well, St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “ I wish that all were as I myself am [that is single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another [marriage and singleness]” and continues later (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) that the unmarried have less distractions than the married to serve the Lord. While I hope that one day the Lord gives me someone to work alongside and minister with and to in the unique design of marriage, I also know that that is not His plan for everyone, that it may not be his design for me.
For some, whether they desire it or not, they will remain single and celibate. For me, that is what I am called to now and so I am to be content in it— even if I desire other things. Rather than be bitter about what I do not have, I look for the unique opportunities that the Lord has given me; I seek ways to be grateful for my current state. I see it in how if I am called overseas, I can easily travel. I see it in how I have more time to invest in multiple relationships and serve others who may be busy, forgotten, or lonely. Ultimately I am grateful for how the Lord has used my singleness to shape and mould me to rely continuously on Him, to find my identity in Him, and not in another individual or my relationship status. (By the way, a helpful article on this specific topic is “Should I Be Content in My Singleness?” by Betsy Childs). So as I continue on in my journey, I may desire marriage, but I never expect it. I do not put my hope something that I have not been specifically promised by the Lord through scripture.
Another part of being content is remembering that it is a daily choice. It is not based upon circumstances, it does not place it’s hope in the future, but rather a Person. As C.S. Lewis writes in “Learning in War Time”
“A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received”
Content comes in the present. As with most of the Christian life, it is a daily choice. It doesn’t just pop up but is cultivated and grows over time. It manifests itself through choosing gratefulness and through trust in the God who created us, whose ways are higher than our ways. Yet it also hopes in the future of Christ’s return. As Paul writes to his young mentee in 1 Timothy 6:6-8, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” Contentment is present focused but aware of our mortality, causing us to be humble. It remembers that our greatest reward is yet to come, but while we wait for that perfect union with Christ, that He is still with us.
Ultimately contentment comes from relying on Christ and His sovereignty; it comes from knowing that what we have now is what is best for us now. Paul writes to the church in Phillipia, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). When we have plenty, we praise God; when we have little, we praise Him, because although we may have little in the world’s eyes, we have everything we need in Him–complete companionship, complete provision, complete salvation. We are content because we are complete in Christ.
So, how are we to be content in whatever situation we are in? Ultimately, it is through Christ and His Spirit who strengthens us. It is a daily choice we make, a practice we grow in. Being content doesn’t mean we do not desire other things–a different job, a happier season, a solid community–but it does mean trusting that what we have now is what is best and that all is a gift, all is a blessing. We can be content when we do not expect for our secondary. worldly desires to transpire. It comes from knowing that in all circumstances–the times of plenty and the times of want–that we have a Savior who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) and in whom we are complete, who we can have complete, satisfied rest and peace.