Sometimes it’s easy for me to read a Bible verse and think of it in only one context. For example, Paul’s famous declaration in Philippians 4 that he has learned in whatever situation he is to be content – because “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Paul is talking about financial provision and material possession here, so I usually think about it in that context. But Paul says whatever situation – all circumstances. That applies to more than financial and material wealth.
As I’ve been seeing my idols and selfishness over the past couple of weeks, I’ve realized that being content in my circumstances would really eradicate a lot of those sins. Take, for example, my sinful need to do what I want to do with my time. If I were content with whatever the Lord allowed in my day, I wouldn’t get frustrated when things didn’t go my way (like I did on Tuesday when I didn’t have access to the internet).
Or take my preoccupation with body image. If I were content with the body I have, I would be able to appreciate my unique beauty and let go of my jealousy of other women. Jealousy is just thinking that other women have something I don’t but something I want to have – in a word, discontentment. If I were content with how I look, I wouldn’t feel the need to count calories, exercise for the purpose of losing weight, constantly critique myself, or compare myself with other women.
And thinking about my life in general – in this season of life, Travis and I are one of the very few young, married couples without kids that we know – anywhere. It can be tempting to be discontent, to think that I’m missing out on experiencing motherhood with all my friends, that being a mother would be more fulfilling than my “career” (if you can call it that).
All of these struggles go back to one thing: thinking that God is holding out on me, that He isn’t giving me what I need to be happy. If I could only have some relaxation time, then I’d be happy. If I could only watch my favorite show, I’d have a good day. If I could only have a flat stomach. If I could only have cute clothes in the latest styles. If I could only feel completely fulfilled with my life. If I could only stop struggling, analyzing, and worrying and just accept things.
My thinking that God is holding out on me is a result of not understanding that these aren’t haphazard details. My life isn’t this way just because it is this way. My life is this way because God planned it this way. He has a reason for everything. He created me to look specifically the way I do. I can try to fight my biology all I want but I will never be truly happy until I accept reality.
Same for when my day doesn’t go the way I want it to. I can either accept the unplanned circumstances, or I can let them make me angry, frustrated and just downright unpleasant to be around. It’s my choice. Am I going to, by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, choose God’s way or, by flesh and human irrationality, choose my own way? Am I going to choose to be content whatever the situation because I can do all things through Him who strengthens me? Or I am going to wear myself out trying to change the circumstances of my life, which I have no control over?
It took me a while to realize, and accept, that I don’t have control over my circumstances – it’s a very anti-American way of thinking. Manifest Destiny. The American Dream. They all come from the belief that we can do whatever we want with our lives, make ourselves who we want to be. That’s a lie. As the economic crisis is proving, we don’t have control. As the millions of people dying from cancer, disease, and starvation are proving, we don’t have control. We are at the mercy of forces outside of our control. Having control over your life is a mirage.
But we have a God who is in control. And for those who believe in Jesus Christ, we have a God who is on our side. Who fights for us. Who works all things together for our good. Who blesses us abundantly. That is why we can be content whatever our circumstance, why we can find peace in having no control, why we can stop trying to do life on our own.
I can be content in being thin or fat, in being successful or failing, in being childless or a mother, in working or resting, in contributing or withholding, in being stylish or frumpy, in struggling or understanding, in being fulfilled or disappointed. Because I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Contentment is not just a reluctant resignation to life as we know it. It’s faith in a sovereign, omniscient, loving God – that this current situation is from Him, controlled by Him, and that He’ll use it for our good. So I am praying for the grace to recognize when my unbelief in the gospel is making me discontent, to repent from it, and to turn to God, finding contentment in His love for me, His sovereign hand working for me, and His presence in my life. Truly He is the only place to be truly content.