I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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 this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV)
“I wish I were thinner.”
“I want a new car.”
“I need a vacation.”
We’ve all done it. We’ve wished, wanted and desired things or situations that we were certain would make our lives better. Most likely, that wouldn’t happen but our struggle with being unhappy clouded the sound judgement that we were drowning in a sea of discontentment. Goodness, I’ve been there for sure! Wanting more. Thinking I needed more. I even tried to bargain with God to get more. But in the end, even when I ended up with what I thought I wanted, I was still supremely discontent and unhappy.
Because I was seeking something to fill the void that could only be filled with God.
You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “yeah, sure, that sounds great and all but you don’t know what it’s like to really be in need.” Actually, I do. I’ve been there. I’m there NOW! I’m not talking about the kind of need that says you have to cut back to one new outfit a week. I’m talking about the kind of need that says, “if we aren’t careful, in a couple of months we will have a hard time getting food to eat.” That’s some serious need!
The fact is, any one of us could probably argue that those needs, and even some wants, could lead us to happiness. Unfortunately, that argument will always be lost because things don’t make people happy. We have to find happiness within us in spite of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
So, where to find our happiness?
It took me a while to figure this one out. For so long, I stayed in this perpetual funk. One lousy situation after another seemed to confirm that happiness was entirely out of my reach. There were definitely days that getting out of bed was not my first choice. Instead, I would come up with about 10 reasons why I should just bury my head under my blankets and skip the day altogether. Unfortunately, if I did that, I would have missed out on blessings that God was giving me. When I stopped focusing so much on what I wanted, and focused on what God wanted to do in and through me, something amazing happened. I was content. And happy.
In fact, happiness is an external indication of internal contentment.
Talk about a slap in the face! I had been wishing, wanting and coveting things that were supposed to bring happiness for so long and it always seemed to be out of reach. And yet, happiness was there all the time; I just chose to not accept it. It took me a bit to fully embrace that, primarily because I didn’t want to accept that I was the cause of all my pain and misery. No one likes to face that reality. Sure, I could easily blame others but the bottom line is that I allowed situations to define my emotions. I allowed others to infect my heart and I did it willingly, it seemed.
Once I realized that God had already given me all I needed, I learned how to embrace life exactly as it was. Don’t get me wrong, I have cried many a tear. I have tossed and turned more nights then I can count. And I have gone through several containers of concealer trying to cover up those dark circles but I’m not unhappy anymore. I am relatively content. There is still a sliver of concern about the immediate future. But I can admit it and acknowledge that the worry I am experiencing is my human weakness. I don’t like it and I pray to God to take it away. You see, God wants me to place all my worries in His hands so that my internal contentment will shine through as external happiness. He has great plans for me and if I spend too much time on my own lists of things I want, wish for and desire, I will miss out on His perfect plan for my life. I don’t know about you but I think it’s pretty exciting that God would take the time plan out my life. Guess what? He did the same thing for you!
When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he spoke about being content in our lives. I can relate so intimately to this scripture because I have lived it. I am living it. My reality is not what I had planned for my life. I can assure you that! I am an educated, disciplined woman and yet my family’s everyday struggles can be overwhelming at times. My husband and I laugh just so we won’t cry. But spending the energy to push against our reality is fruitless. All that does is cause more pain, heartache and hopelessness. When that happens, Satan wins.
What if we learned to embrace our reality?
I know for me it was like I could breathe for the first time. It isn’t easy to let go of this false sense of security we call control. But truly accepting my reality allowed me to hear God’s voice in the midst of the chaos. I had been drowning Him out because I was so certain I knew what was best. But when we learn to be content in our present, God will indeed give us strength for our future.
I am pretty certain that my turbulence is not over with just yet. And I bet a few more tears fall. But I am able to place a genuine smile on my face and allow my external happiness to shine because my internal contentment is firmly in place. I still get disappointments and fears. Being without a job is a scary place to be. But God continues to provide for me and my family as long as I continue to give Him all the glory, even through gritted teeth. I may not like the lot I’m in but I love the One who is by my side.