My friend Sally has a 5-year- old who is driving her crazy. If she takes him swimming he’s sad he didn’t go to the playground instead. If he goes to the playground he wishes he’d gone swimming. If he has a play date with one friend, he misses his other friend that he has not seen in a while. If he gets to go to McDonald’s he’s excited, but then his hopes are dashed because he doesn’t get the Minion that he was hoping for. Why can’t he be happy with what he has? Why can’t he be content?
It isn’t just our kids who struggle with contentment. It’s us, too.
Elsie has a big house but no backyard. She would love a backyard. She does have a long, winding drive that her friend with a small apartment wishes she had. One gal has lots of children but longs for some quiet in her life. Another struggles with infertility—her life is too quiet.
The truth is that no one is truly content. Within each of us there is a deep longing for something more. Even in the most perfect situation or most perfect relationship there’s something lacking. This is in part because we were created for heaven. We are simply visiting this earth. We won’t be completely content until we are united with Christ in heaven.
However, God does want us to learn to live with more contentment on this earth. The apostle Paul expressed it this way:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. (Philippians 4:11-13)
Paul seemed to “get it” more quickly—I am still in the process of learning. Perhaps you are too.
How do we find contentment in whatever season of life we are in at this moment?
1. Realize that God has placed you where you are right at this time—for this moment. We are where we are with His permission. He is here with us. Most importantly, He has something special to teach us in this place. Our responsibility is to cultivate a teachable spirit. Ask Him what He wants to teach you in this season where you are right now. Be alert to what He might show you. Adopting this mind set will give you a vision for the season you are in at this moment.
2. Be conscious of two phrases that rob us of contentment: “If only…” and “When… then…” If only I had a better income… If only my toddler slept through the night… If only I had a husband… Or, When I just get through this season, then… When I finally get a job I like, then… When I find a friend, then…. The problem with these thoughts is that there is always something more we will want. We never get to that place of ultimate satisfaction this side of heaven.
3. Nurture thanksgiving in your life and in your child’s life. I woke up this morning and before I even got out of bed I was discontent. Grabbing my Bible and journal I asked God to give me His joy. And I began to list 10 things for which I was thankful. Slowly my perspective began to change. My thoughts began to focus on His blessings instead of my lacks. Beginning every day with this discipline is one small step toward filling my gratitude tank. And here are some ideas for encouraging this discipline in your kids as well:
- At your breakfast table have each family member share one character trait of God or Jesus for which they are thankful. For example, “Thank You that You always forgive me when I ask. Thank You that You always love me.”
- Take time at dinner to share specific things that happened during the day for which each person is thankful.
- Take young children on a “thankful walk” and see how many things you notice that God has made for which you are thankful.
- Most kids like lists. Keep a thankful journal on your table and see how many specific things you can record throughout the week.
My natural default is discontentment. I have to work to nurture a habit of contentment. And I imagine I’ll be learning how to do this for the rest of my life. But as Paul has reminded us, we can do this because He will give us strength.