I have a confession to make. I drive a mini-van.
This upgrade (or downgrade- depending on how you look at it) came after some unexpected changes and was the most practical next step as we looked ahead at our growing family. But if I’m completely honest, this change also came with some mixed emotions. As much as I wanted to be thankful for this vehicle that God provided, deep down I found myself wishing for something a little nicer and for a little while, I found the roots of discontent starting to set in.
Too often we’re discontent with the superficial things in our lives. We’re trained to want bigger, better, newer, faster, and more expensive. We live in a society that is constantly whispering lies that what we have is not good enough. And as dangerous as it can be to be discontent with the material things in our lives, even more dangerous is when we find ourselves struggling to feel content with the more significant things in life.
Whether it's struggling to feel content with our marriages, feeling inadequate about our parenting, or looking down at our physical appearance, so many times it’s easy to feel like we aren’t measuring up. Whether you are struggling to feel content with the material things in your life, or something a little deeper, I’ve found these three principles help to refocus our perspective:
1. Stop Looking Around, and Start Looking Up. For me, the single most significant factor in changing my heart has to do with my focus. In a world of social media, Facebook, and the perfect lives of Pinterest, everyone seems to always have their best foot forward. We can easily find ourselves comparing their best to our worst. When it comes to learning how to be content, the biggest favor we can do for ourselves isn’t to simply close our eyes to the things around us- but rather, to fix our eyes on things above.
All throughout Scripture we’re challenged to remember that this world and everything in it is temporary. Everything in this life will one day fade away, and only one thing will remain: our relationship with Jesus Christ. In order to really know and understand true contentment, we have to realize that our hearts will only be satisfied when they are satisfied with Him. The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to look up, and allow our lives to be consumed by the only One that really matters in this world. As one song puts it, we need to learn to live “for an audience of one.”
2. Focus more on the Do’s Than Don’ts. Take a drive down any major highway, or turn on any TV station and you will be bombarded with billboards, signs, and commercials reminding you of everything your life is missing. But the truth is, contentment has very little to do with having what we want, and everything to do with wanting what we have. When we take the time to appreciate what we’ve been given, those things begin taking on a whole new meaning in our lives.
One of the best ways to learn to focus on what we have is by having a heart of gratitude. Rather than simply longing for all the things we don’t have, it’s important to go to God in thankfulness for all that we do have. Our perspective is so important in the cultivation of contentment, because it colors the lens through which we see all of life. We will either be people who are lacking, or people who are living. Take the time today to focus on what you’ve been given by thanking God for those things.
3. Don’t Live in the Shoulds, Coulds & Woulds. Without even realizing it, we live so much of our time focusing on the past, rather than experiencing the present. It’s easy to fixate on the things we should-have, could-have, or would-have if things had been different. But things are as they are, and living in the past will never allow us to enjoy the present, or move into the future.
The enemy wants to use our past to fill us with regrets, doubts, and hopelessness, because he knows that this kind of guilt will keep us paralyzed. But God’s voice takes our should-have, could-have, and would-have’s, and invites us to live for the hope of the future, rather than to wallow in the regrets of the past. The third key of contentment, is to stop looking back, and to keep looking forward.
No matter who you are, where you are, or what you’ve been through, God promises that by His power, Spirit, and strength, true contentment can be a daily part of your life (Philippians 4:12-13). Though it may take a shift in perspective and a change of heart, true contentment will give you the opportunity to live everyday to its fullest. May God give us all the strength to keep looking up.
Debra K. Fileta is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Relationship and Marital issues. She, her husband and two children live in Hershey, PA. She is the author of the new book True Love Dates (Zondervan, 2013), challenging young men and women to do dating in a way that is psychologically sound, emotionally healthy and spiritually grounded. Visit www.truelovedates.com and follow her on Twitter to get your dating questions answered and to learn more!