Many of us live our lives with a strong desire to make a lasting impact on the world, railing against the ‘if onlys’ that we feel would bring us the success, recognition, and happiness we seek. In this article, Ronne Rock challenges us to look at the definition of ‘contentment’ a little differently and shares 10 practical ways we can live a life of contentment right where we are.
I remember sitting at the cold, hard desk tucked away in the journalism building at the University of Oklahoma, studying the impact of media on society. We students watched and debated everything—and always came to the conclusion that even the best could have been slightly better, ‘if only’. And we were always included in that if only piece of the conversation. We, with the big dreams and the unique perspectives and the itch to change the world; with the lessons learned from the mistakes of those who went before us; with the plan to make a true and lasting impact.
Big Dreams and Big Plans
We would soon launch into our careers, and we would find ourselves living out the reality of those dreams and lessons and big plans. For most of us, the road wouldn’t be as straight as the map we had drawn and the acclaim wouldn’t be as great. In fact, few of us would become famous by the standards of our culture, despite our bullet-proof plans and hard work. Our if only thoughts about impacting the world would turn inward. If only I had a platform, or if only I could get my ideas in front of the right people, or if only I lived somewhere else or did something else or knew someone else.
My classmates and I would learn that life happens, and the biggest challenge to our plans to change the world wouldn’t be found in the if only. It would be found in how we fully lived out the days set before us.
THE STRUGGLE TO LIVE A LIFE OF CONTENTMENT
For most of us, the fire of the 20s becomes the pressure of the 30s, then the ‘exhale’ of the 40s and 50s as we learn to ebb and flow through careers, commitments, celebration, and calamity. We struggle to find contentment as we learn to embrace uncertainty.
I’m now living in the next decade (if you are keeping track of the progression). And despite launching brands, changing careers in my late 40s, traveling the world to tell stories of hope, speaking at conferences and events, and landing a book deal while being a wife and mom and GiGi and friend, I can assure you that the if only voice booms as loudly as it did when I was a spitfire 20-something ready to take on the world as a journalist. If only I was younger, if only I had taken more risks, if only I had worked harder, if only I had more time.
Still Living in ‘If Only’s
Yes, I’m still learning what it means to be content. For years, I associated contentment with being happy and worry-free. But I’ve learned the word is far richer and more purposeful. Contentment in its fullness means to find satisfaction, rest, peace, and sufficiency in the days we have been given. It is being confident that the Lord is both Author and Perfecter of those days and that He will be faithful to complete all that He has begun in us. He is a powerful and creative God who will continue to reveal that creativity in and through our lives, no matter our age or life stage.
10 TRUTHS THAT LEAD TO A LIFE OF CONTENTMENT
Even as I continue to journey through this life, these 10 things have proven themselves to be true about embracing an everyday life of contentment. Commit these to memory now and let them come to life within you. I promise, in due time, you’ll share them with the decades that follow yours.
1. Big Does Not Equal Significant—But Significant Always Equals Big
The statistics are pretty dismal when it comes to global fame. Only about one in a million people in the world will rise to that status. The rest of us might experience some form of notoriety at some fleeting moment in our lives—but few of us will ever know what it’s like to be known by everyone. But do we really need to be big to be significant, to change the world around us?
An Example of Contentment
In Texas, hundreds of kids have received college educations and established successful careers because of the work of my friend, Flo. She advocates tirelessly on behalf of the disenfranchised, donates daily to the poor, and has been invited to sit on boards for local charities because of her road-tested wisdom. She’s quietly cleaned up low-income neighborhoods, working to have crack houses shut down so kids will be safer. Awards are displayed on the shelves of her library, and she smiles at the thought of being honored for her work.
Now, to meet Flo, you’d have to drive to her clapboard home. You see, she doesn’t own a car, so she relies on the kindness of others to get her from one place to another. The neighborhood she’s helped restore is her own—the only place she could afford to live when she moved from Illinois years ago. She doesn’t have a degree or hold a steady job, and the health issues she faces continue to mount. And yet, she smiles. “This is what God has put on my heart to do,” she says. “And I’ll keep working until the day I take my last breath.”
2. Prayer is Essential for Contentment
Prayer is a dialogue with God, an opportunity to express desires, doubts, needs, fears, celebration, and frustration. Scripture says that, when we pray, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds. Researchers agree. The National Institutes of Health found that people who pray every day are 40% more likely to have lower blood pressure. A study conducted by Scientific American revealed that those who pray regularly have greater self-control and better discipline in their day-to-day lives. And research done by the Journal of Gerontology showed that people who pray regularly are generally healthier and live longer lives. Bottom line: Prayer is good for your body, mind, and spirit.
3. Rest is Paramount
Type in “Why is rest important?” and Google will serve up more than 800 MILLION results. The theme repeats again and again: Rest is essential to productivity. Whether it’s a job, a fitness regime, or technology, experts say we need recovery time. But the idea of rest isn’t a new one; God created rest with the same regard that He created the heavens and earth—and us. And He invites us to participate in that rest in the midst of our day-to-day life.
Be Still and Know
Psalm 46:10a is a Scripture most Church-going folks know by heart. “Be still, and know that I am God.” By itself, it paints a pastoral picture of blue skies, birdsong, and quiet streams. But Psalm 46 is anything but peaceful. There is bloodshed and there is war. Nations rage like gale-force winds. Mountains quake and forests burn. And there, in the midst of it all, God speaks. He doesn’t say, “Escape the chaos so I can talk to you.” Instead, He has the audacity to say, “Calm down. Stop the spiraling. Watch Me be God. Let Me show you what it means to find rest at this very moment.”
The same God who quiets nations and quiets storms invites us to watch Him quiet time right where we are. That quiet time may be as we begin our days in prayer and contemplation, or it may be in the midst of project deadlines and rushed dinner-making, but it is the moment in the midst of all the moments that rage around us where we direct our face toward the face of a Father who stands ready to reveal his strength, His power, His love, and His grace to and through us.
4. Trials and Temptations Are Really Friends in Disguise
One of my favorite paraphrases of James 1:2-5 is this, found in the J.B. Phillips New Testament:
“When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.”
They may be disguised as setbacks, disruptions, detours, or downright dead-ends, but I promise you this: trials and temptations are friends in disguise. They’ll open your eyes to blind spots, provide perspective and wisdom, and may even open new doors of opportunity.
5. We Are Created For Connection
I work in the orphan care world, and we often say, “Kids are born to belong.” A sense of family provides us the wraparound support, care, and safety we need as children, and sets the tone for the way we’ll view friendships, love, and intimacy as adults. Even for those of us who have come from troubled family situations, the need for belonging exists. Family is far more than DNA, and God is good to create that family through friendships, mentorships, kinship, and adoption. He Himself has created us for connection: first with Him and then with others. In Genesis, He said it is not good for us to go it on our own, and He handcrafted companionship for us.
A God of Family
The God who calls Himself a Father to the fatherless has not stopped creating family for you and me. That God-crafted family is a powerful healer and helper.
My friend, New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff says, “Fear fears community.” Again, we’re born to belong. In fact, important hormones are released when we feel that sense of belonging: oxytocin (the ‘connection’ hormone) and serotonin (the ‘contentment’ hormone).
We are better together.
6. It is Good For Our Hearts to Be Known
Two years ago, I traveled to eastern Europe, where I spent time with young adults who had aged out of orphan care. Over hamburgers, I talked to two women who had lived in a large residential program for years and were now struggling to navigate the uncertainties of independence. Both had been abused, both had been abandoned. “Why do you even care about us?” one glared. “I bet you don’t even know our names.” I smiled, and said both names, asking if I was pronouncing them correctly. Their faces relaxed. “And why do I care? Because I was abused, and I am an overcomer. You are overcomers too, and your story matters to me.”
Few people want to be famous. But we want to know that our lives count for something. Invest in the lives of others and you’ll discover you feel more known too.
7. We All Need a Place to Call Home
“Why is home so important to us? Because for better or worse, by presence or absence, it is a crucial point of reference—in memory, feeling, and imagination—for inventing the story of ourselves, our life-narrative, for understanding our place in time. But it is also a vital link through which we connect with others and with the world and the universe at large.”
Michael Allen Fox, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Queen’s University
Home doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical destination. But we all need a sense of home where we feel safe, where we feel known, where we can relax and rest. For me, home looks a lot more like people than a place; it is wrapped up in lingering conversations and backroad adventures. For my best friend, home is her studio filled with paint and texture and light. For my mom, home was always the kitchen. Problems were solved there, boo-boos were kissed there, love was served there. What does home look like to you?
8. We Are Designed to Do Good
Designed by a creative Creator, the drive to create lives within us. No matter how that creativity manifests itself, we are our best when we do good with our hands. One of my favorite translations of Ephesians 2:10 is this:
“Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives” (Common English Bible).
God Makes All Things Beautiful
I think again about my friend Flo. Most of the items she uses to raise funds and care for the people she serves are things others might easily toss in the trash. “People throw away perfectly good things, just because they’re not fancy enough or not new enough. They’ll even throw away brand new things because they got a bigger brand new thing,” she shares. “But God knows how to take all things and make them beautiful for someone. He’s just waiting for us to let Him show us how to use them right.”
And nothing in Scripture promotes retirement. That’s right. There is no expiration date on our worth and value. We are to be active until we take our last breath. Doing good with our hands helps focus our heads and hearts.
9. We Are Designed on Purpose with a Purpose
Yes, remember this: We are designed by a creative Creator. Scripture says that we are hand-crafted in the image and likeness of God. It was not an accident. His design of us is intentional. Your identity matters, and you are designed on purpose with purpose. Guard your heart and mind from the destructive nature of comparison. The more you allow your worth to be measured by the ebbs and flows of cultural norms, the more you cripple your God-designed identity. And that identity is timeless.
10. The Space We Are in is Worth Filling
“I could have moved from this place a long time ago,” my friend Flo shared with me one afternoon as we sat in her yard to visit. “I’ve had people promise me all sorts of great things or tell me that I could make something more of myself and never have to worry again about where the money will come from to care for the kids and pay the bills. But this is where I’m most useful.”
Comparison rarely leads to contentment. Far more often, it leads to competition and condemnation. Like an impressionist painting, from a distance we often see smooth and well-blended stories in the lives of others. But grow closer, and we see that the design is, in reality, thousands of small and inconsistent brushstrokes. The grass on the other side of any fence still needs to be weeded and watered.
Fill The Space You’re In
The most important thing Flo has taught me over the years is this: fill the space you’re in. Rather than filling her time with if only wishes, she lives her life fully in the midst of her circumstances. “There’s a purpose in us being in this place for this time,” she says. “If I am going to trust God with my life, that means I trust Him with where my life is right now. And it means I make sure I’m doing the most with this life right now.”
Which of these timeless truths resonated with you the most? Would you have any to add to Ronne’s list? How could you take steps today to live out some of these principles more intentionally?
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