When contentment is hard to come by

Fighting comparison with the gospel

August 27, 2019

Our lives can be dictated by our emotions, riding the rollercoaster to the heights in a time when things are going well and crashing into discouragement and frustration when we face difficulties, failures, and obstacles. It’s often a rollercoaster we don’t enjoy, yet getting off can seem impossible.

How do we take away the power from those uncontrollable things around us? How do we develop a contentment that overrides the experience of both the highs and the lows? 

A battle for contentment

I once thought about contentment as a predisposition or a spiritual gift—something that happened to a person like her eye color or athletic ability. Yet, I have concluded that in order to minimize the power of unwanted emotions and to experience the fullness of life in Christ, we must recognize that we are in a daily battle for contentment. 

I recently experienced a season where almost every area of my life went through a major change—having a third child, moving, and a significant job shift for my husband. I had so much to be thankful for and so many prayers answered, yet negative emotions were dominating my days. I was frustrated daily by the actions of my small children. I felt insecure in new and old relationships. I had to step back at work because I couldn’t get it all done. All of these situations left me discouraged, anxious, and jealous of others who didn’t seem to have the same struggles. 

My story and the circumstances are specific to me, but I believe most people can relate to the feelings of not measuring up, being dealt an unfair hand, or being left behind. We wonder why we didn’t get the job, the praise, or the friends. The emotions of discouragement, and even anger, become a powerful force in our lives.

A crippling comparison

In this season, I found myself deep underground on the rollercoaster ride. But the Lord in his kindness began to reveal ways in which I could pursue and experience a contentment found in him alone. I also talked to a counselor and my doctor and would encourage anyone who experiences the emotions I have described to do the same. 

Yet, through Scripture, godly counsel, and prayer, I began to understand my emotional experience largely as the result of my sin and a false gospel I was believing. One regular area of sin was the practice of comparing my life to that of other women. This happened in real life, on social media, at work, and at church. I was watching friends and colleagues achieve goals, become leaders, build beautiful home lives, and flourish in relationships. At least, that’s what I thought. This daily exercise of self-judgement, as well as covetousness, was like a wrecking ball swinging into my heart.

Scripture helped me unwind my twisted heart. At the end of the book of John, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, and Peter repeatedly stated his love for Jesus. Jesus also told him that “someone else will tie your hands and carry you where you don’t want to go,” alluding to Peter’s martyrdom. Peter turned to look back at John and asked Jesus, “What about him?” There seems to be fear, jealousy, and competition mingled together in his words.

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” Some translations read, “You must follow me.”

I have concluded that in order to minimize the power of unwanted emotions and to experience the fullness of life in Christ, we must recognize that we are in a daily battle for contentment.

When we focus our attention on others, whether their successes or their failures, we derail our own relationship with Christ and misunderstand our relationships with others. We need the truth of the gospel to reorient us. Those of us who are in Christ are co-heirs with him through his death on the cross; we are sons and daughters of the King. This links us together as family and partners in the mission of God. We should see each other “as members of one body,” each doing an important and interconnected work. (1 Corin. 12)

We should view those who are unbelievers with compassion because we know they are trapped in sin. We are tasked with sharing the hope we have with them, with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15). There is no room for self-focused comparison in this mission. Praying for the people God has placed in my path and seeking to grow in relationship with them are some of the best ways for me to push away sinful thoughts. 

A distorted gospel 

In addition, I found a distorted gospel at the heart of my comparison. I wanted to follow Jesus, but I wanted it to result in ease. I wanted others to see it and applaud. I wanted it to result in the blessings that I had determined were appropriate. In short, I thought my good works counted for something. Paul writes about this warped pursuit of godliness in 1 Timothy 6: 3-8. 

“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

A false gospel brings frustration. My emotional experience was evidence that I was not believing right things about God and about the life of following him. I was being led more by ambition, self-sufficiency, and pride than I was by the Word of God and the Spirit. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul said that those who love money have “wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Mine were self-inflicted wounds. 

The battle of contentment is work. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:11-12, “Flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness,faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called.”  

We need God’s help in this battle. We will find him in the Scriptures. Go to God and let him work in your heart. And may he help us understand rightly our place as his undeserving children, changing how we see ourselves, our lives, and those around us—all for his glory.