I never thought I had a problem with discontentment. Sure, I could develop a bad attitude when my carefully crafted plans didn’t go off without a hitch, and perhaps there were rare instances when I obsessed over how I could attain the latest and greatest novelty item all my friends were talking about. However, for most of my life, I was under the impression that contentment and discontentment were only about materialism, or that you had to build up a track record in this area before it could be pronounced a legitimate issue in your life. I considered myself “safe” from this sin for a long time.
In all honesty, I didn’t consider it much of a sin in the first place. And herein lies the danger of discontentment, especially in Western culture. We don’t grasp just how easily it can distort and destroy our lives when it gains power over us. We even glorify it at times when we describe admirable people (particularly women, in the twenty-first century) in terms of their fierce determination—their unwillingness to take no for an answer. Our society hinges on the perceived value of personal obligation and entitlement to “the good life.” The problem is when we’re speaking of the good life, what we really mean is the life that is absent from discomfort—or at least the life that most closely matches our cherished dreams. The good life is the life that treats us better than—or at least equal to—what we believe we deserve, in a positive sense.
I believed this lie for most of my life. I grew up in a trailer park, wearing hand-me-downs and eating food out of boxes and cans from the local charity organization. Of course, there were people worse off than us, but it was well known among my peer groups that I was “poor.” The kids more prone to bullying made me aware of everything good I lacked, both in a material sense and an immaterial sense. But one thing we did in my family to alleviate our sense of strain and dissatisfaction is that whenever we had the chance, we enjoyed ourselves to the fullest. My dad occasionally splurged at the store and cooked a big meal on the stove—something like sirloin steaks and potatoes—and we gorged ourselves in a spirit of celebration and comfort. Our attempts to comfort ourselves in the midst of bad circumstances typically involved food or some new toy that would set the budget back to an extent that would probably make Dave Ramsey vomit.
Without realizing it, I grew up thinking of myself as “content” because I knew how to live with less on a material level and still be quite happy. What I did not consider is that a slower, steadier, more insidious form of discontentment began to breed in my young adult heart. It manifested an obsession over the little things. I could endure a reasonable amount of discomfort as long as there was something small within my reach that I still could control and take pleasure in: a great latte, a perfectly composed Instagram picture, a beautiful garden, a clean room, or a good grade in school. These seemingly harmless and inherently good things became my source of rest and comfort. If I didn’t get them, or they came to me in less-than-perfect form, I grew miserable. I began to be convinced that God couldn’t possibly be good if He didn’t let me have such insignificant pleasures to comfort myself amidst the pain of my home and relationships. Why would He afflict me in the big things and then deny me simple pleasures on top of that?
Perhaps this sounds insane, but think about it. Haven’t you ever felt the urge to cry when you drop a pen or spill a drink at the end of a really bad day? The cry of our heart in these moments is often, “Why was that necessary, God? Why can’t You just make something go right for me?”
And there it is before we even see it coming. Some minor discontentment has moved us to shake our fists at the God who gives us life and breath. It has made us distrust His sovereignty and, further, has bred in us a feeling of ownership over our lives which are supposed to be abandoned to Christ according to Scripture: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20-21 ESV).
At its core, discontentment is any professed or practiced rejection of the idea that Christ is enough. If it is enough for us to be rescued from the wrath of God and hidden in Jesus for all eternity, then the inconveniences and losses—even of good things—we experience in this life won’t consume us. They may burn, sure enough, but we won’t be consumed (Ex. 3:2-3).
This is exactly what should set us apart from the world. As Melissa Kruger notes in her Contentment series for Ligonier Ministries, this sense of security, peace, and joy in Christ is what should cause unbelievers to ask us to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15). On the flip side of this, harboring discontentment only shows that our priorities are in step with the world. It reveals that we don’t value the gospel and God's glory over all other things, people, or experiences. Discontentment diminishes our witness and destroys our hope. It is no small matter.
By the grace of God, may you and I grow in a kind of contentment towards great and little things alike that proclaim the surpassing value of Christ and His eternal kingdom.
This post was contributed by Jessica Hageman. Click HERE to read her bio!