Sometimes in life, you will find yourself in a place that you don’t want to be. It may be a job you don’t like, an unhappy marriage, a lower financial status than you’d hoped for, or many other things. In some of these situations, it may be appropriate to try to make a change. Seeking a new job that you enjoy more may be a good thing, for instance. However, in many of those types of circumstances, it is simply a matter of learning contentment. Remember, God allows trials in our lives to mature us spiritually. You can’t and shouldn’t change things every time you don’t like them; you shouldn’t get a divorce, recklessly quit your job without thinking, or start buying everything you’ve ever wanted on your credit card just because you’re unhappy. Instead, you need to learn contentment.
The key to being content is relying on God for joy, instead of seeking it in the circumstances of your life. If you are depending on yourself to make changes in order to find happiness, then that happiness will never be permanent. Permanent joy can only come from God, and learning to be content in any situation is one of the keys to finding that joy in Him. Of course, sometimes changes do need to be made.
So when is it right to change your situation, and when do you need to learn to be content? Well, maybe there’s a middle ground for some situations. For instance, although you should not get divorced, you also shouldn’t have to just accept an unhappy marriage. A middle ground here could be working on your marriage in the areas that can be improved, and working on contentment in the areas that can’t (because no spouse will ever be perfect). In some cases, it would be better for you to learn to be content with the way things are. If you have enough money to live a healthy life but not enough to make you “happy,” then you should work on being content with what you have and killing your idolization of money. In other cases, you should not try to learn contentedness at all. If you are being abused, for example, getting out of that situation is an important and God-honoring change for you to make.
Here are my guidelines for when to make changes in life:
1) If the situation you are in is hurting you or others, then change the situation (and remember to do so in a loving way.)
2) If the situation you are in is causing you serious discontentment despite continuously seeking joy through God, then make a change where appropriate. More importantly, continue learning contentedness through God in the areas you can’t change.
3) If the situation you are in is causing you discontentment and you are not seeking joy through God, then don’t change your situation, but do change your attitude to one of God-seeking contentedness. Remember that God is the only source of true joy! Work on surrendering your earthly desires to Him and focusing on Godly desires instead.
I’ve recently had to put this system to the test.
I am currently a college student at a private university near my home, where I’m working towards my bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts. I’m a sophomore, and I’ve done very well in school so far. The problem is… I hate school. Ok, so “hate” may be a strong word to use here. But basically, I find myself very discontented in the day-to-day tasks of school. I dread going to class, and when I do, the relatively short class period drags on for what seems like forever. Daily homework assignments are so uninteresting and unattractive to me that I end up just not doing them, or doing them with as little effort as possible. Essays and projects are looming burdens that I try to put off for as long as possible, and then eventually crank out as quickly as I can. Learning at school is just not something I’m interested in. And no matter how much I try to focus on God and seek joy through Him, it’s been difficult for me to be content in this situation. For all of these reasons, I spend much of my time in auto-pilot, simply trying to get things done so I can get out of school and move on with my life. Unfortunately, I’m still not even half way done.
When I recently expressed these feelings of frustration to my close friends, one of them suggested that I consider whether college is really in God’s plan for me. Hearing this was like a shock to my heart, and it woke me up to the fact that I have other options! Contrary to what I used to think, I am not stuck.
After that, things happened pretty quickly. I did a lot of praying and thinking, spent some time researching, and finally came up with a plan. Instead of simply dropping out and wasting all of the money, time, and energy I’ve put into school up until now, I’m going to get my associate’s degree. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, an associate’s degree is basically a lower-level degree that you can get in two years instead of four. By transferring my units from my current university to my local community college, I can finish my degree in another semester and a half. I can also take a lot of those courses online, which will cut back on one of my least favorite parts of school—sitting in class.
In forming this plan, I’ve also had to do a lot of thinking and researching about what I’m going to do after college. After all, I won’t have a bachelor’s degree, which is required for many jobs. So how am I going to support myself and my family? Well, after praying about the issue for quite a while, God gave me an answer. I now have a clear sense of my passions in life—children and writing—and how I can use them for God’s glory while at the same time financially supporting my family. I’m going to do this by running a daycare, and later a home school program for my children and others; being a stay-home mom to take care of the kids and house; and writing novels to make extra money. It’s pretty much my perfect dream come true!
However. Yes, there is a however. Despite the fact that this plan sounds great and will probably work out, there is always the chance that it won’t. After all, life is not perfect. I need to be prepared to find contentedness even if the situation changes again. And even if it does work out, realistically I won’t always be completely happy with the situation. For example, I probably won’t be all that happy when I’m in school for the next year, finishing my degree. I probably won’t be completely satisfied when I’m trying to get on my feet financially after college, and waiting for my husband to establish his business so we can start our family. I probably won’t be thrilled when I’m dealing with the numerous and uncomfortable medical appointments during my pregnancy, and I definitely won’t be cheerful as I approach the terrifying prospect of childbirth. So you see, even though I’m making positive changes for my life, I still have to learn contentment for the times (and there will be many) that aren’t so great.
Which brings me to my main point; making changes in your life can be helpful, but even then, learning to be content is still an important skill. As a Godly man recently said to me, “the grass isn’t greener on the other side; the grass is greener where you water it.” In other words, changing your life to find a better situation will only help if you put an effort into being content in the new situation. And sometimes, it may not be necessary to change the situation because a simple “watering” will do. For example, the solution to a rocky marriage isn’t to get out of it; the solution is to give the relationship a little more care and attention, and to nurture the marriage back to health.
So when you find yourself in a situation that you don’t want to be in, ask yourself this: am I discontent because I’m not trying to make the best of this situation and improve it, or am I discontent because I’m in a situation that God isn’t calling me to be in? If it sounds more like the first, then it’s time to put in some work to improve things, and more importantly to focus on God as your source of joy. If it sounds more like the second, though, then change it. Just remember that life will never be perfect, and continue to seek joy through God and contentment in your life situation.
This is your life; you are here. Don’t like it? Then do something about it.