I always knew God created me to mother children. I knew it the same way I knew I had blue eyes. It was just a fact about the way I was made. So our infertility diagnosis left me with questions and doubts that weren’t easily answered. I wrestled with many heavy emotions, and in all of that, I had this guilt. I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to be content the way I thought a good Christian girl was supposed to be.
There were moments during those years that just felt like survival. There were dark nights of weeping. There were baby showers that left me shaky and angry. There were date nights with my husband that were supposed to be fun and ended up being lonely as we grieved our losses in our own ways. I wanted so badly to fix my infertility. I didn’t feel peace about not being a mother. I couldn’t abandon the desire for children God had placed in my heart for as long as I could remember. I felt this weight that maybe if I just achieved some state of holy contentment with our childlessness, then God would be proud of me and give me what I wanted. But instead, it seemed like he withheld both things from me– contentment and children.
This battle with contentment has continued to be a struggle for me (long after I’ve experienced some healing of my infertility pain) as I’ve navigated foster care, adoption, and even in things like my marriage, and friendships. When I’ve felt guilty for not being more content as I’ve faced struggles in my life, I have found myself wrestling to understand how to live in this tension. How do I make peace with the lack of peace I feel?
I don’t think I’ve arrived at the perfect answer. This aspect of my faith is something I’m continuing to mull over and wrestle through. But I want to share with you where I’ve landed on the subject.
I’m learning “contentment” isn’t the same thing as sitting on the couch in my sweatpants eating chips and saying, “Oh well. What are you gonna do?” when faced with adversity. That doesn’t seem like contentment, but feels more like defeat and hopelessness. If I had been content with childlessness, I wouldn’t have made the sacrifices necessary to pursue adoption. If I had been content with my the state of my marriage, I wouldn’t have been willing to do the hard work of partnering with my husband to make it better. If I would have been content with our experience in the foster care system, I wouldn’t have been willing to lobby our state senators for changes, or been inspired to keep working with foster parents to navigate their own way through the system.
It’s precisely because I’ve been discontent with things I see around me that I’ve been motivated to work for change and push through resistance or pain. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I can see how God has used my desire to fix, to change, to work, to make things better in the situations where I’ve been placed. That restless feeling has seemed to be God’s nudging into uncharted waters where he leads me along.
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.Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:6-9
So here’s what I think contentment may look like in some of the situations I’ve found myself:
Infertility–I am not content with childlessness, but I am content in the knowledge of God’s control of my life. I am content with how he made me, both as a woman who loves children and as a woman who can’t easily reproduce.
Marriage–I am not content with unhealthy habits that creep in over time or ways we begin to take each other for granted. I am content in the partner God gave me and accept that I can only choose my choices, not control my spouse.
Friendships–I am not content to be friendless when there are people around I can befriend. I am not content to be in toxic relationships when I have power to change those dynamics. I am content in the knowledge that loneliness doesn’t always mean I’m doing something wrong. I am content in relationships where we don’t always agree, understanding that God’s path for me is not the same as my friend’s path.
What I find as I think through these specific examples is that I need to come at all situations from a place of deep contentment about who I am (my strengths and limitations) and who God is. I think the discontent that is harmful comes from not realizing God is in control. We want things to go our way and when they don’t, we feel frustrated. But when our goal is to honor God with our lives, we’re able to be frustrated by what frustrates the heart of God. We’re inspired to work for change or to pursue difficult goals with a soul that understands the outcome belongs to God. Fighters can be content. Fixers can be content. We can find peace in our present circumstances while fully realizing we live in a fallen world that we’re working to change.
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.
If you’re struggling with contentment, start by asking yourself if that stirring in your soul is a sign of distrust, or is it something meant to push you towards being an agent of change for good? Is this discontent a struggling against the will of God? Are you trying to put a bandaid over a gaping wound so you just won’t feel the pain anymore? Are you trying to fix your way out of a situation where God is wanting to mold and shape you through your struggle? Are you trying to control that out of control feeling? If so, pursue contentment. Trust that God loves you. Ask for the wisdom of those you trust about how to suffer well when times are hard. Be patient.
But if you realize that discontent is pushing you to step out in faith TOWARDS the will of God, listen to it. That unease in your soul is what motivates us to step beyond our plan, out of our comfort, into his will. Ultimately, that kind of discontent isn’t a discontent about who God is, but is an ache that’s meant to help you accomplish what God wants from you. That restlessness may actually be a reflection of our contentment in God’s perfect will even when our circumstances don’t reflect that reality yet.