When our lives don’t look the way we think they should, it’s easy to feel discontent. We compare ourselves to others, focusing on the things we don’t have, wishing our lives were just a little easier. But happiness and inner peace don’t come from a life of ease and plenty. They come from knowing Jesus and allowing Him to hold us when our circumstances overwhelm us. Jenny Nanninga has learned how to be content, even when her circumstances remain challenging, and she shares her secrets with us today.
“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
This quote by Walt Whitman hangs on my kitchen wall. I placed it there intentionally, when I desperately needed the reminder. These days, the truth of these words is more a part of me than a mantra I recite through gritted teeth.
I printed out and framed this quote at a time when I wanted to desperately push back against my circumstances. I wanted to push back against the chipped and stapled down brown linoleum of the kitchen. I wanted to fight against the 800 square feet our family was squeezed into—the outdoor laundry room, the single bathroom, the old windows, and the cracks in the ceiling.
I wonder what you are envisioning as you read that description. Are you feeling sorry for me— the way I was feeling sorry for myself? When I printed out that quote, I had two children. I now have five, and we live in the same house.
A CHANGED PERSPECTIVE
Candlelight flickers from a taper atop the piano. The sound of classical music intertwines with that of a singing teakettle and chirping birds. The aroma of fresh bread mingles with the scent of eucalyptus coming from the backyard boughs. Giggles and smiles emerge from the bedroom down the hall and I smile.
I’m describing the same home, you know. That chipped linoleum has only cracked more, and I am pretty sure the floor is sloping. The laundry room is still hidden off the back porch and the 800 square feet have not grown an inch, yet our family has grown.
The difference in those two descriptions is not in the circumstances but rather the vision—the vision of the beholder. I behold this home and all that it contains. A home, however, is more than walls and decor. A home is heart and people and living. When I set my eyes on the eternal, when I see it all as a gift from the great Gift-giver, then it becomes a palace.
EMBRACING THE PLACE GOD HAS YOU
It’s almost funny to me now when I imagine that woman who needed to read the words of Whitman repeatedly to keep her from discontent. The years have taught me to embrace the place God has placed me, and that embrace has taught me much. The longer I lean in, the more I see the benefits, the gifts, the joys, and the purpose.
Our home is small, but we are tight-knit. Our home is old, but there is nothing the children can ruin. Our space is limited, but we focus on people rather than stuff. We don’t have much, but we have witnessed God’s miraculous provision. Would I like a farmhouse kitchen and more space for my five daughters’ shoes? Sure. Would I trade it for the gift of gratitude and perspective of simplicity we have gained? Not on your life.
Our difficult circumstances may not be going away anytime soon. Do we fight against it? Do we rail, wail, curse, and complain? Or, do we let go, reach into the difficulty, and take hold? Maybe we need to become familiar with our circumstances, get to know them so intimately that they no longer frighten us. Maybe we will even discover new sides to them.
During my pregnancy with my fifth daughter, one complication followed another. I was frustrated, tired, and a little annoyed with God. Yet, I remembered a book I had read that spoke of a woman who lived with daily pain yet learned to rejoice and live for God; who shone as a light to all who knew her. I looked more closely at my own circumstances. I paid greater attention to the pain. Was it here to teach me? Was it here to be embraced? Was I really embracing my circumstances if I stopped resisting—or my Savior?
What I found is this: He embraces us. He holds us in those circumstances and He holds the circumstances as well. Scripture tells us that, “His right hand embraces me,” (Song of Solomon 8:3) and “upholds” me (Isaiah 41:10). Hold that hand. The circumstances change, but the hand remains. The circumstances become harder, but the hand never weakens. The circumstances become too much—the hand remains over it all.
When I let go of hoping for the outcome I thought was best, I was able to live my life. The worry, the stress, the fear, the wishing for change were smaller than the faith, the trust, the hope, and the joy that the Director of my days offered. That pregnancy ended with a traumatic labor and delivery that birthed extreme bouts of panic attacks and anxiety as well as a precious baby. If I had not learned to accept the difficult circumstances of my pregnancy, the waves of trouble that followed would have crushed me. Instead, my Father’s hand led me through. I had learned to look for Him in the struggle, rather than on the other side of it.
CONTENTMENT IN CHRIST
True contentment is not about our circumstances. Paul makes that clear in Philippians 4. He addresses the fact he has learned to be content in all circumstances, and his secret is Christ. Interestingly, he also states plenty as one of the circumstances he has found contentment in. This would be the real tragedy, wouldn’t it? If after all our difficult circumstances, we came to a place of situational ease, earthly happiness, physical health—and even a farmhouse sink—and were still discontent in our souls. It happens, though. Wealth, success, marriage, and all the worldly pleasures we could experience can leave us empty without Christ.
We can take a lesson from Job. He had everything and he lost everything. He suffered and surrendered. He embraced his struggle and he walked with his God. “If they obey and serve him, they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity and their years in contentment” (Job 36:11, NIV).
Contentment, then, does not lie in what we have, but in who we have. Who we have is Jesus. Who we have offers, “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
Right now the wind surges and the rain pours outside and our wall heater blasts out delectable warmth. There is nothing like a storm to make you love your shelter. In every storm, we have a shelter; we have the Shelter who will “ …shelter you with His wings” (Psalm 91:4). Embrace Him, and He will help you embrace the circumstances He has placed you in.
Now, If I could rewrite that Whitman quote, it would go something like this: “Contentment, not in another place but in Christ…not for another hour, but forever.”
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