Sustaining Contentment

Lately, I've struggled with contentment.

Or maybe a better way to say it would be that I've *noticed* an ongoing struggle with contentment in my life. While life is not gumdrop perfect in any way, I have so many blessings and joys in life... and yet I struggle to maintain the elusive "attitude of gratitude" (I loathe cheesy rhymes and phrases, but this one is so perfect for what I need to cultivate that I'm going with it.) and be content.

Sometimes it's the people, sometimes it's the place, sometimes it's the circumstances... but I am now realizing that I have allowed seeds of discontented bitterness to spring up in my life unabated.

Yesterday, I came across some helpful advice and wise words... all of which seem directed at me:
  1. QUICKLY DEAL WITH THE SIN YOU SEE IN YOUR LIFE - Jay Adams offers sage wisdom about not harboring sin in your heart. Sadly, I have seen the effects of what happens when I as a believer allow sin to creep in and claim and control portions of my life... particularly in my thoughts.
  2. Reading Psalm 51 is always one of the first places I go when I need to confess sin-- ESPECIALLY when I don't feel like it, when I'd rather just maintain the status-quo. "Have mercy"... "wash me thoroughly"... "against You have I sinned"... "purge me"... "blot out"... "create", "renew", "restore", "uphold", "deliver". I love Psalm 51's honesty about sin and its target of renewal and restoration... as the living and active Word of God, when I read it and use it as a prayer to the LORD, it somehow works in me to bring about a right attitude even when I start out with a rebellious, self-focused desire to stay the same.
  3. PRESCRIPTION FOR CONTENTMENT: "*Never allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather. *Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else. *Never compare your lot with another’s. *Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise. *Never dwell on tomorrow - remember that [tomorrow] is God’s, not ours." Good advice. And it's now up on my fridge, cause I need to read it again and again. :)
  4. I somehow ran across this old post: A LIFE WITHOUT COMPLAINING (Excellent advice here!)
  5. This Puritan Prayer-- "HEART CORRUPTIONS"
    O God, may Thy Spirit speak in me that I may speak to thee. I have no merit, let the merit of Jesus stand for me. I am undeserving, but I look to Thy tender mercy. I am full of infirmities, wants, sin; Thou art full of grace.
    I confess my sin, my frequent sin, my wilful sin; all my powers of body and soul are defiled: a fountain of pollution is deep within my nature. There are chambers of foul images within my being; I have gone from one odious room to another, walked in a no-man's-land of dangerous imaginations, pried into the secrets of my fallen nature.
    I am utterly ashamed that I am what I am in myself; I have no green shoot in me nor fruit, but thorns and thistles; I am a fading leaf that the wind drives away; I live bare and barren as a winter tree, unprofitable, fit to be hewn down and burnt. Lord, dost Thou have mercy on me?
    Thou hast struck a heavy blow at my pride, at the false god of self, and I lie in pieces before Thee. But Thou hast given me another master and lord, Thy Son, Jesus, and now my heart is turned towards holiness, my life speeds as an arrow from a bow towards complete obedience to Thee. Help me in all my doings to put down sin and to humble pride. Save me from the love of the world and the pride of life, from everything that is natural to fallen man, and let Christ's nature be seen in me day by day. Grant me grace to bear Thy will without repining, and delight to be not only chiselled, squared, or fashioned, but separated from the old rock where I have been embedded so long, and lifted from the quarry to the upper air, where I may be built in Christ for ever.
  6. And then today came this story of a woman content to be confined to life in a metal tube for 60 years. Truly, contentment is worth the having. Just as discontentedness can change blessings to seeming-curses, contentment can change miserable circumstances to delightful ones.
This week, I have to tell you, I really got fed up with refinement. What a poor attitude for a believer, a Christ-follower, to have! I wanted to run from His sanctifying and changing work in me and just "be left alone for a while" (as I told a friend). But that is not the road of Christ. Though it hurts, though it is tiring, though it threatens to make me into something new and the new can be frightening, though it feels as though the road keeps narrowing for me, though the self-grown protective scales must be ripped off to reveal the soft flesh beneath... it's really what I want.

And I say that with resignment. I'll confess- I'm not always an eager trooper for Christ. I want to be. I want to want Him. But I so often fail... it is in these moments that I am thankful that HE is the One that keeps me and it is not my own goodness that will recommend and reconcile me to Him.

How do you cultivate contentment in your life? 

How do you stave off bitterness and a critical nature? 

What Scriptures, books, articles, or advice have helped you in your fight for joy and delight in the LORD?


Polly said...

It is funny you mention Psalm 51, b/c one of my all-time favorite verses is 51:17. I find it to be so true.

I'm not sure about bitterness and a critical nature--about circumstances, I don't tend to have these feelings, about people, I just remember how human we all are. it's the problem we all have. When I was younger my parents helped me cultivate contentment generally by noting how blessed we are/were. And I admittedly find the silver lining in every cloud (up with a baby, exhausted, at 3 am, rocking him back to sleep? silver lining: precious, sweet moments I will remember and long for when I am 80 years old...cuddle time...etc).

for me the biggest part of contentment is recognizing what I have control over (myself, certain circumstances) and what I don't (other people, most circumstances), exercising the control I can over what I can and then trusting the God has the rest. {And being okay with my own pitiful suffering from time to time, because it's part of humanity, but then dusting off and moving forward.}

Mandi said...

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, but from the opposite perspective. You see, right now, I am extremely content. I feel overwhelmed by the blessings in my life, and even the tiny things – such as folding laundry or hanging diapers on the line – bring me joy.

But I've been thinking that I'm not sure I made the choice to be content. I think it's just because of my circumstances at this moment, and I want to guard against discontent sneaking back in as things change and we hit different stages in our family. I really liked the link to five ways to guard against discontent.

Never complain about anything.I think I should just post that one on my fridge because it's going to take me a while to master that one...

Thanks as always, Jess – great post!

Sarah Jo said...

Thankfulness is a great antidote for discontent. Also, remembering who God is from his Word, not my interpretation of my circumstances, is comforting and encouraging. I am thankful for his forgiveness, since I complain a lot and can be very critical!

Rachel said...

This post could not have come at a better time. Contentment is something I've been struggling with for a long time, but especially lately. Thank you so much for such great words of advice and encouragement!

In the good times, when I am content, it is because I'm constantly thanking the Lord for all His blessings.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson and think it will really be a blessing.


Kyla Jean said...

This was such the perfect post for me to read this morning. I am not content for reasons that I will not complain about on here :).

I am printing your post out and putting it in my journal.

Bethany Hudson said...

I come from a family that seems to view complaining as a competitive sport :) Needless to say, I developed some bad habits growing up. I definitely can relate to much of what you have written here. I would only make one change, which is that rather than "never complain" we should "always give thanks." By simply trying to bite my tongue and not complain, I found I was just bottling up the comjplaint on the inside. But, by turning my complaint into gratitude, I was able to actually change my perspective, and I find this much more helpful.


Annette said...

I appreciated what you had to say about not complaing, even about the weather. It bothers me when people do that - God gave us whatever whether He chose to give that day, and who are we to fuss about it! We should look at all of life, even the uncomfortable circumstances, as given to us by the hand of a sovereign God, and accept them as such in full surrender and trust.


Kari said...

Like another commenter posted, I also come from a complaining family so it's deep-rooted in my way of life. My husband is a fantastic example of contentment to me - in fact, he's nearly impossible to buy gifts for because he doesn't want anything :) The one thing that always gets my eyes back on Jesus and the big picture is that my hubby often responds to complaining with a gentle, "We have good problems". And it's true. What a ridiculous luxury to complain about some of the things I do.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

This is going to seem like a silly suggestion, but if a woman/wife/mother struggles with contentment issues or measuring up, Christian blogs are the worst place in the world for her to spend a signicant amount of time.

Philippians chapter 4 is one of the best and most encouraging chapters in the Bible for thinking on the lovely things and learning to be grateful and content no matter what your present circumstances.

Christy said...

Contentment is something that I really struggle with as well...always wanting something more, something different, etc.

Lately I've been slowly making my way through a thought-provoking, convicting book by Jeremiah Burroughs called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I highly recommend it. He calls it a great mystery wrought in us by Christ.

Catherine said...

Great post, Jess. In the last three years, I have learned so much about contentment that I'm just amazed! One of the things that my counselor points our regularly is that we have a choice in how we respond to our circumstances. I don't have a choice to have chronic pain, but I choose how to respond. Having even a little bit of control is so important. When I start to feel my contentment slipping again, I read Philippians. Paul shows us how to be content in ridiculously hard circumstances - he CHOSE his response. Thanks again for this timely reminder!

Persuaded said...

honestly for me, contentment is a survival strategy, lol. and in spite of the lol, i don't mean that facetiously. i'm a single mom and when i allow myself to become discouraged and to look enviously at other women's lives everything can spiral downward very quickly indeed.

it's always easy for me to look at others who seem to have it easier and better than myself. a little discipline (oh how i hate that word!) and i can just as easily see others who have it worse than myself. instead of moaning, "why me?" i try to think "why not me?"

trite but true♥

Robert said...

Thank you so much for this post. During this season in our family's life I have been struggling with discontent. I really needed to read some of the things you wrote. Thank you!


Susan @ HeartPondering said...

Thanks for the edifying post Jess. The woman in the metal tube really drives the point home, huh? Wow.

My favorite verse when I'm wrestling with discontentment is Ps 16:5 - 6, and I repeat it to myself over and over.
"LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance."

Focusing on the sanctifying work that God is doing in me during challenging times is another thing that helps - if I really take time to pray it through, thank him, and drink it into my soul. I just wrote about this yesterday - "sanctification by mothering."

I also love and heartily agree with Terry's advice about blogging activities when grappling with discontentment (or insecurity)...

Anonymous said...


- Every night I write down 10 things I'm grateful for, and 5 things I'm proud of myself for - such as not giving in to the urge to be grumpy with someone, or whichever fear or goal I faced that day.

- When I am sad, I try to do something thoughtful for someone else. Soon the sadness or discontent are gone.

- Some discontent might help us uphold our values. If we value cleanliness, and we're discontent with how clean a room is, then discontent motivates us to clean. It reminds us of our values. It can result in motivating us to take action so that we truly ARE delighted with the cleanliness of our room. (for example)


More than Survival said...

Fantastic post... I know you are not alone... I struggle with this at times.... more when I am tired or have filled my life with too much... isn't that ironic... too much leads to discontentment. I also find it very helpful to set the timer for five minutes and make a list of things I am thankful for until the timer rings... amazing how many things I can come up with. Then the rest of the day I DELIBERATELY choose to THINK about the blessings I wrote down..... For me it is a TOTAL mental choice~!!! Thanks for the reminder.

Ticia said...

What a perfect post! I must have really needed a reminder about contentment this week and I even got to share this post with my daughter.

Clare said...

Jess, a very good and timely post! We live in a world that urges us to discontentment with what the Lord has provided for us, and pushes us to demand more, more, MORE!!
In contrast, Scripture tells us, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." [I Thess. 5:18] Thankfulness is to be our permanent posture in all circumstances!
Secondly, it says, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us therewith be content." [I Tim. 6:6-8] This reduces our actual needs right down to what is truly necessary for life - everything else is just gravy.
Thirdly, Scripture points out to us that unthankfulness is a key step on the road to hell: "Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." [Rom. 1:21] An unthankful attitude presupposes that God owes us whatever our little hearts desire, and leads to that obnoxious attitude of entitlement displayed by most of the world today. What most of us don't realize is that what we consider a small character flaw, i.e., ingratitude, God considers a great sin. Remember the Israelites grumbling and complaining about the miraculous manna that God had so graciously provided? And remember God's response?? [Numbers 11] The problem is that we fail to see the magnitude of our sin - like Adam & Eve, we excuse it or shift the blame for it. We need to pray that God would allow us to see our sin as HE sees it! That would change our attitudes pretty quickly!

Crystal said...

You always seem to be right on time with your posts. I am struggling with these same issues. My husband is working hard while I am a stay at home Mom to an 8 month old. Sometimes the days seem so long and so hard, and I have a hard time seeing the things that are good. Thanks so much for these words!

Anonymous said...

Getting involved with almost any kind of charity work will regularly remind you that you have a lot to be thankful for.

I agree with the advice not to compare your lot to that of other people who seem to have it better. After my parents' deaths I had to work hard to overcome unhelpful jealous ways of viewing other families with their multi-generational joy. Now I still regret that my parents are not living, but I feel genuinely grateful and content with the love and support I received from them during their lifetimes.

My sister didn't do the hard work on breaking negative thought patterns and still gets upset every time she sees her in-laws.

Also, don't hold grudges against people who have wronged you in some way. Life is to short to stay angry about slights. I'm not saying you don't have a right to feel hurt or ask someone for an apology, but if you are dealing with someone who is insensitive and blind to your perspective, accept that the person won't change and stop being upset about it.

Laurie B

Laura said...

"It is what it is" has become one of my favorite sayings. I think a lot of times as women, we have a knack for guilt-tripping ourselves into thinking we shouldn't feel hurt when someone snubs us, or we shouldn't feel disappointed when we keep seeing a dream fade into the distance, or we shouldn't feel _______ about ______! And I think that just increases our discontentment, because on top of feeling sad or disappointed, we feel guilty, and then resentment grows because we haven't dealt with the problem, and then...

I've just started saying, "You know, my feelings are what they are, and this situation is what it is, and rather than a) complaining about it or b) pretending it's not happening, I'm going to be honest with the Lord about it and trust that he can manage it better than I can." I've found that just that honesty with God keeps me from developing a complaining heart about it. Yes, it might really stink or it might be all in my head, but either way, it belongs in the Lord's hands and that's where I'm leaving it.

Christine said...

I love this post. It is just what I needed. You have a knack for doing that, Jess! Many blessings!

Denise said...

Been reading a while and really love your site. I wanted to share about a book that I read on bitterness that was so moving. It was funny, because I saw it on a friend's table and it gave me the creeps. You will see why... anyways, I thought this would be a good read so that I could help my Mom & sister that have major issues...riiight... I'll just say it was a bit of an eye opener and I didn't think I was bitter :) Book is called How to be Free from Bitterness by Jim Wilson

Kristi said...

In the movie "Fireproof", and "The Love Dare" there is something they said that has stuck with me. It goes something like this: "Don't just follow your heart, because it can be deceived... You have to LEAD your heart." The context of it follows with what Jesus said: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

I have thought about that a few times and what it means - not only in our marriages, but in our whole lives. What we choose to dwell on, invest our time and money into will become more important (quoting from the Love Dare) and we have the choice to lead our hearts to delight in thankfulness or in discontentment. A friend of mine once said she had been told to "thank the Lord for the boards in the wall" when she felt discouraged. When we determine to be thankful, it is impossible to be discontented.

The Hayes Zoo said...

This is a good one Jess. A HARD one thank you very much, but a good one all the same.