It’s the most wonderful time of year, but these next few weeks can also be difficult for many. There are families who, for the first time, will be gathering around a table grieving the loss of a family member. There are single and widowed adults who are navigating what it’s like to show up to holiday gatherings alone. For some couples, it’s another holiday season that’s gone by without seeing those longed-for lines on a pregnancy test or receiving an adoption placement. And for many, they might not be in seasons of suffering, but discontentment has made its way into their lives despite the many blessings God has provided.
Whichever boat you’re in, choosing contentment during the holiday season can prove to be arduous. But for the believer, it is something that we are called to fight for even amongst the most trying circumstances.
Paul says this from his jail cell in Philippians 4:10-13, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
And 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
These verses aren’t meant to shame you, believer. Rather, they’re here to encourage you that, in Christ Jesus, contentment is possible regardless of your current struggles. Here are three practical steps to help you choose contentment this holiday season:
1. Get off social media
In a world of instant connection and readily available images of picture-perfect family gatherings, holiday parties, and even well-polished Christian content, consider limiting your social media use this holiday season. If you find your heart leaning toward envy, comparison, or self-doubt whenever you get online, it is a great sign that it’s time to take a break. Research has shown that excessive social media use is connected to increased anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even narcissism. Why not remove this proven fomo-inducing tool this season?
If you use social media for news, reading, or connecting with friends, consider taking a brief sabbatical from online forms. Choose, instead, to set aside these weeks for reading books, writing or calling friends and family, or visiting with people in person. Consider supporting your local newspaper. Although it might be hard at first, if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy the much-needed break.
2. Surround yourself with Christian community
The holiday season can be an isolating time, and it’s tempting to avoid all the hustle. But if you find yourself discontent with your circumstances, press into Christian community. Find trustworthy people within your local church who you can be vulnerable and spend quality time with. Feel free to say no to events and holiday parties that evoke a spirit of jealousy or comparison, but seek out and say yes to community events that help fix your eyes on that baby in a manger. Intentionally choose community that encourages contentment in all things while celebrating the Messiah who came to change the world, right every wrong, and offer us our greatest gift.
3. It’s better to give than receive
It’s no secret that the holidays have become over-commercialized by our culture. Ashamedly, I’ve spent more time this year developing my Christmas list and thinking about holiday events, rather than focusing on meeting the needs or wants of others. To combat my own heart from longing for the things of this world, I’ve been praying about and looking for ways to quietly bless others this holiday season. If your heart naturally longs to receive, spend some time thinking about ways you can share the love of Christ through generously giving. There is no better medicine for a self-centered heart than the practice of thinking about and serving others.
4. Keep a gratitude list
A few years ago a friend gifted me with Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. At first, I balked at the idea of keeping a gratitude list; it seemed a bit old fashioned and forgive me, but slightly corny. Yet per the usual, Ann Voskamp was right. Contentment is the fruit of a grateful heart. I started keeping a list, and it was as if my eyes had been opened to a reality that existed but I’d been previously ignoring. The more I started looking for God’s hand, I noticed his goodness everywhere. Ann wisely states in her book, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting the love of Christ” (p. 184). If you are having a difficult time finding things to be grateful for, start taking notice of the ways God is already providing. I assure you that as you start recognizing his love for you, love and contentment will spill out into other areas of your life.
The world tells us we need bigger, better, flashier. It tells us that we are not enough and that we never have enough, but the good news of Jesus gives us the privilege of being a contented people in a discontent world. Christ calls us to contentment in seasons of plenty and seasons of lack. But when our hearts start to long for the things of this world, may Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace, and Mighty God fix our eyes on what truly matters.
Merry Christmas and may contentment in Christ abound in your heart this holiday season!