I watch her pound her legs into the rubber, flinging herself higher and higher into the air. The first rays of spring sunshine catch her hair as she bounces, her face shining with a child’s carefree contentment.
Definition of Content:
adjective: in a state of peaceful happiness
verb: to satisfy (someone)
noun: a state of satisfaction
When you put it like that, who wouldn’t want to be contented?
To exist in a state of peaceful happiness.
To satisfy and to be satisfied by the people in your life and the situation you find yourself in.
Who wouldn’t hunt that down, pursue that high prize above all else; make it a goal and a treasure. A practice and a priority.
So why, so often, do we find ourselves feeling anything but content?
Why is it that contentment is so rarely a place I call home?
It isn’t that I’m not happy, or that I don’t count my blessings- I do. All the time. It’s just I guess I’m some-one with a short attention span and itchy feet. Too long on one thing and I start to go a little stir-crazy. You know those management personality-type assessments? I’m definitely the one who doesn’t get ‘Completer Finisher‘. Give me the challenge of the new and the thrill of the unknown over the the steadfast sureness of the every day, every time.
And that’s not all bad. I have learnt over the years to embrace the whole of who I am as the way I was created to be – the positive and the negative. To harness the restless heart and try to use it for good. Because not being easily contented can be a good thing too. Of all the things you could accuse me of, I don’t often get too comfortable. And I’m not afraid of taking a risk, or changing it up. Discontentment with where you are and what you’ve got can often be the motivator we need to get out and move on. To working hard and pressing in and seeking out more and better.
If it is harnessed the right way.
And it’s a big if.
Because if misunderstood, discontentment can be a destructive driver for a restless heart like mine.
Contentment. Caught between the old and the new, it can be a seemingly-old fashioned word that is tricky to pin down; all at once a positive and a negative. Often belittled or misunderstood, it can be easily confused with slow, unexciting, boring.
And sometimes it can feel as if our fast-paced world doesn’t allow much time for contentment. Sitting still and drinking in the view; taking stock and measuring your cup and finding it full. We are constantly told that what we have is obsolete before we’ve even gotten it home and taken it out of it’s shiny new wrapping; possessions, job titles, people – it can seem a never-ending climb to a false horizon; the next new thing – the one that will make us really happy, really contented – is always just over that hill. Except when we get there it isn’t. It’s over the next one. And the next. There is so much pressure sometimes to keep moving on and up that we can start to devalue what we actually hold right here in our hands today.
And when discontentment really means trying to plug the hole in our heart with the buzz of the new, we know we’re in a place that is never going to feel like home.
So how do we learn to discern the difference between a good discontentment and a destructive one? The positive driver or the slow destructor?
Learning to listen to that quiet rumble in your soul is hard. Working out when to go and when to wait. When to pack up and move on and when to invest in right where you are. Because the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, sometimes it’s just greenest where you water it most often.
Yesterday we spent the day putting up a greenhouse in the garden. A few months ago, I’m not sure I would have spent the time or the money doing that. I was feeling restless, and so I didn’t want to invest into here. And I wasn’t enjoying being here so much, either. Newton’s third law says that for every action, there is a reaction. When we choose to be present, to invest, to enjoy, we get contentment in return. When we choose to compare, to feel dissatisfied, to pull back, we can feel discontented and adrift.
But yesterday, as the children jumped on the trampoline and we worked in the sun to figure out how all the pieces slotted together and hoisted it into place, I felt connected to these people, to this place.
And ultimately, for me, that connection and that contentment comes from the only thing that has ever really felt like home to me.
“….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….”
The Bible, Philippians 4:11-13
And what gives us that strength to be content?
“The joy of the Lord is my strength”
The Bible, Nehemiah 8:10
When I’m connected to God, when I’m investing into that area of my life, the joy spills out and rest falls into place. The highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, all shot through with a grace and a love that give rest and peace to my soul. The joy displaces discourse and chases away fear. The fear of missing out, the measuring of my achievements or my position against what I thought it might have been, or what others would have it to be, blown away by the only real rest and contentment I’ve ever known.
The joy of knowing the Father’s heart.
Of knowing who I am in him.
The joy and peace that comes from a life invested in the only thing that truly matters.
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