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I’m taking a break from minimalist wardrobe posts to instead talk about contentment. As I said in another post, being content is much more important than being happy, especially as a Christian. Happiness is a good thing, but it’s also a feeling that comes and goes. Contentment is a state of mind that allows for emotions like frustration, pain, and anger as well as happiness. It’s the mindset that says “Well, this sucks right now, but I’m content with the things God has given me, and I’ll rest in that.”
Over the last month, my little sphere of humans has experienced a lot of suck. Money is an issue, jobs come and go, and personal relationships are nowhere near where we want them to be. The sun seems to barely make an effort, and the colors outside are muted and dark.
In the midst of this, we’re still called to be content in the blessings of our God. Contentment is a mindset that we have to practice, but sometimes it’s hard to do this. It’s especially tricky when you’re already dealing with anxiety and depression.
This can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are some things that have helped me practice contentment in the past few weeks.
Enjoy Uplifting Things
“Men are seldom helpless against their own evil wishes, and in their souls they know it. But common men love flattery not less than tyrants, if anyone will sell it to them. If they are told that the struggle for the good is an illusion, that no one need be ashamed to drop his shield and run, that the coward is the natural man, the hero is fable, many will be grateful. But will the city, or mankind, be better?”
During a snowy trip, my friend asked me why I listen to all these upbeat songs. He thought that the music should match the weather and that my music was too sentimental for the winter.
The truth is I listen to upbeat music and read uplifting books because I don’t need any help exploring how awful humans can be. If you’re honest with yourself and have a decent imagination, you know what evil things you’re capable of doing. The “whys” and “hows” of terrible people aren’t all that interesting after a while, and knowing about them isn’t going to make me a better person. Honestly, it’ll make me a sadder person.
That’s why I’m picky about the media I consume. I know that Stephen King is a great writer; I’ve read his books. But I also know that my favorite characters will inevitably go crazy and die, taking all hope with them. I don’t want that in my life.
Cultivating hope in others and in God is one great step towards being content.
Let Your Emotions Happen
Speaking of good stories, let’s talk about the Jedi.
If you’re a nerd like me, you might have noticed that by the time Anakin (aka Darth Vader) joined the Jedi, part of their practices looked a lot like stoicism. Stoicism, as we know it, is the philosophy of the Stiff Upper Lip. It’s squashing your emotions in the face of hardship so that you can get stuff done.
That works… for a little while. But those emotions have to go somewhere, and in the case of Darth Vader they came out as murderous rage.
I’ll admit that’s an extreme example, but my point is that the Jedi aren’t the only ones to push aside their emotions for a higher cause. How many times have you heard someone say something to the effect of “Sure, my world is pretty much on fire right now. But God’s in control!” If you genuinely believe that, then great. But if you’re saying that as a way to gloss over your feelings and skip to “having faith,” then we have a problem.
People (myself included) think that by experiencing fear and anger, we’re an affront to God. Yet God made us, and if He didn’t want us to experience these things, we wouldn’t. Instead, it’s how we respond to these things that make us holy and develops our faith and contentment.
The Psalms are full of poems that say “I was afraid, and God saved me. I am afraid, but God saved me before, He will save me now. Because of this, I am content in the Lord.”
Developing a content mindset means cutting out the Christian Stoicism, and being in awe of your God who loves you in spite of your “wrong emotions.”
… But Don’t Let Your Emotions Dictate Reality
We recently got some great news from a friend about his career. While I’m super happy for him, I also felt like I’d been gut-punched. Why was he succeeding when I wasn’t?
There are plenty of reasons for why he’s successful now, while I am not. The least of these reasons being that he’s been working at his job for half of the time I’ve been alive. But my emotions were telling me it was because I was an awful human who didn’t have the drive or talent to amount to anything.
That, of course, isn’t true, but if my emotions had had their way, I would have gone home and never typed another word again. What would be the point if I were a failure anyway?
Luckily I got some perspective and realized that while I’m not where my friend is at, I’m also not doing nothing. Every day I’m trying to do something that gets me closer to my goals. The key to being content in my efforts is to step back and gain some perspective and remind myself of the things that I am doing.
The same goes for physical things. I want to have a beautiful home like the ones I see on Instagram. But right now, we can’t afford half of the things I see, nor do we have space. It’d be easy to become discontent and look for something better. In reality, I have a sturdy roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, food in the fridge, and a cat to keep my company. That sounds pretty good to me.
Talk to the People Who Love You
Sometimes the best way to contentment is talking to the people who love us. The other day I was feeling crummy about my life. So when I got a text message from a friend asking how my day was going, I shot back a response like “Not much, just laundry, making broth, reading, and writing.”
Instead of the apathy and admonishment I was heaping on myself, she replied, “That sounds like a lovely day!” And really, she was right.
There are times when I feel terrible about myself. The best thing to do in that situation is to reach out to the people who love me, and hear what they have to say about me. When I’m berating myself for not being “over depression,” my husband reminds me of how far I’ve come in the time he’s known me. If a friend tells me she feels like a worthless bum, I remind her how untrue that is.
By working together and keeping each other accountable to reality, it’s easier to find contentment where you are.
How Do You Find Contentment?
If you’ve gone through a rough time, or are going through one right now, how do you practice contentment? Are there any stories or verses that have helped you?