Contentment is a peaceful thing, isn’t it? It seeps down into the bones and allows you to actually enjoy all that you have instead of hungrily gnawing on the bone of the one thing you wish you did.
And discontentment is subtle, isn’t it? It doesn’t wave a red flag in our faces and announce its intention of taking over our souls, does it? It creeps in by the backdoor and grabs our attention in one seemingly small, insignificant thing we wish we had…but don’t…and we start thinking about it. Planning for it. Budgeting for it in the future. Turning it over and over in our minds. Savoring it from different angles. Comparing our miserable little lives with all the grand, glorious, good lives of the people who have it (whatever it is). And then, all of a sudden, it’s not just one thing. It’s two things. Ten things. A whole life of things we wish we had…but don’t. And wham. We’re sunk a mile deep, wrapped in the reeds of the swamp of discontentment, when the last thing we remember was dipping a single toe in its waters.
If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience, you guessed correctly. I am.
In fact, I found myself there this week. And the little toe I stuck in the swampy waters was over the pool I wish had…but don’t…in my backyard.
For all of you who live in cooler climates, don’t judge me too hastily. Living in Houston in the summer is more like living in a humid, sticky swamp than a city. The only time you head outdoors is so you can run to the nearest air-conditioned shelter…or jump into a pool. If your pool happens to be a bike ride or a car ride away, then relief from the heat can require a few extra steps than just opening your back door. Especially when you have kids in tow.
And it never fails. Around this time of year, I start mulling over all the different reasons and all the different ways I could get a pool in my backyard: we could forgo eating for the next year and a half. I could start digging in the dirt myself with a shovel. I could give up Christmas…for the next ten years. Everyone’s gift could be that they get to come swim in my pool at least once a year.
And here’s the kicker: I start comparing my house to all the houses of people I know who do have pools. Their kids stay in better shape. They have more fun as a family. More people want to come over to their houses to stay or play or visit.
But here’s the thing: it wasn’t my thinking about a pool that took me by surprise this week. It was all of the other thoughts it led to. As soon as I began sucking on that hard piece of candy of wanting a pool, it wasn’t too long before I began to choke. Within a couple of hours, it wasn’t just our backyard with which I was discontent: I was discontent with my wardrobe, my schedule and my eating habits. In another hour or so, I was discontent with my girls’ bickering and attitudes, their activities and abilities, and their schedule for the fall. And by dinner time, I was just plain ol’ discontent with life. Jason walked in the door, and I had a long list of things I wanted to change about our house and our schedule. Somehow I started telling him how I wanted a pool and ended with how it was time for me to take seminary classes.
It’s clear as day now. But it wasn’t then. It felt about as dark as mud. As cloudy as a swamp. As confining as reeds wrapped around my ankles. All I knew is I felt I was drowning in all my unmet desires, and my life was really a series of disappointments and worthy of some self-pity and change.
I went to bed that night knowing that what I was feeling wasn’t quite right, and that I was stuck in some sort of fog, but I couldn’t figure how I got there or why the vague feeling of discontent had settled over my life.
And then, the next morning, I came to the part of my prayer time before the Lord where I was supposed to repent – and it hit me like a 2×4 – I was discontent about everything because I had consented to being discontent about one thing. And all of a sudden, as repentance began to flood my lips and my heart, the cloud completely dissipated, my legs broke free of the reeds, and I was pulled out of the swamp, set down upon the shore, and completely content. Right where God had me.
Philippians 4:11 came to mind, and I turned there to read the familiar words. Paul writes, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. “ What was unfamiliar are the words that immediately follow: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis mine).
I have heard that verse quoted at football games and before soccer matches. I have heard it quoted at youth rallies, summer camps, and in sermons.
But I have never heard it quoted before in the context of contentment.
And when it comes right down to it, that is, perhaps, where I need the strength of Christ the most. To be content. Right where He has me. With exactly what He has given me. Because contentment takes a strength that must come from the inside out. A strength that is beyond me and beyond my abilities. It must come from Christ, who strengthens me.
I don’t know what swamp of discontent you are stuck in (if any); but I do know exactly what will pull you out: turn to Christ who gives you strength, go back to the one thing, the first thing, that opened the door to discontentment, repent, close the door, and settle into the good sand on the shore where Christ has placed you. And be thankful there. Let His goodness and His provision of all of your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus meet your each and every need (Philippians 4:19).
And instead of wallowing in the swamp of discontentment, you will be free to enjoy life and strength and joy right where He has placed you. Pool or no pool. And that, my friend, is the very best place to be.