Contentment is the lost ingredient of joy. Have you noticed how little joy there is in our world today? Where has it gone? Why did it leave? How can we get it back?
Discontentment is stealing your joy.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how much people have, they still want more? The advertising industry is built on this concept: create a need and then fill that need. Make people discontent with what they have and then show them how your product will fulfill their desires.
Nearly everything we see, read, or allow our minds to dwell upon leads us to be discontent with our lot in life. And as long as we are not content, we are in a state of anxiety, fear and discouragement. How can we escape the old rat-race of unmet desires and a frustrated life?
Contentment brings the cool breeze of peace and the laughter of joy to your life.
Without it, our lives are a bleak desert of longing, frustration, and discouragement. When contentment leaves, our joy and peace leak away with it like water soaking through the sand. Sometimes you don’t even notice it, not until you hit a wall and suddenly realize the depths of your despair, discouragement, doubt.
Here are six steps to reclaim contentment and find joy.
1. Be careful what you think about. Contentment is born in your mind.
As missionaries to the First Nations people in British Columbia, Canada, we lived in houses that were cramped, poorly built, and unlovely. What could I do about it? I could have complained. I could have longed, dreamed and prayed for something better. But that’s a dead-end street. I had to learn to be content with what I had and make the most of it.
Chilanko Forks is a tiny dot on the map in the central part of the province. It’s the home to the Tsilhoquot’in or Chilcotin Indian Band. If you walk the Google map, you will notice a distinct lack of shops, malls, doctor’s offices, theaters, or anything else that equates civilization.
At the time, we had two small children.
Brian was about a year old, and Sherry was born in Williams Lake. We joined five other missionary families who were learning the language and ministering to the people.
Our house was a tiny white cottage. We had running water – we ran it in and out – and only limited electricity. Ken Lobdell, our field superintendent, purchased a generator that provided electricity to our houses, but we had to conserve power, so every night at 10pm, the lights would go out.
There were many things I did not like about our home and situation – the outhouse, the lack of running water and electricity, isolation from my family, the uncomfortable situation of living in a different culture, and the messy business of ministry.
I had to learn contentment and it was not easy.
It started in my mind. I focused on my family, on getting through each day, on God and the work He had given me to do. I did my share of complaining at times, but I knew if I wanted to reach the Indian people, I had to put up with the hard parts of it. I had to accept my situation, change what I could, and trust God for the rest.
2. Be thankful for what you have.
Being thankful goes hand in hand with contentment and joy sneaks in like a welcome guest.
One wintry night during our stay in Chilanko Forks, Dan went down to shut the generator off at the light plant. I was in the back bedroom with a candle but there were no lights anywhere else in the house.
Suddenly Dan burst into the front door and came running down the hallway. “Come quick! You have to see this!”
He had a flashlight, so I followed behind him, tying on my robe. He was ahead of me and sprang out the front door. I ran as hard as I could in the total darkness. Slam! I banged full bore into the door!
I didn’t know he’d closed it behind him when he went out.
Needless to say, I saw quite a lot of stars that evening. Recovering, I went outside and looked at the sky. It was covered from horizon to horizon with pulsating green lights. I thanked God, not for my black and blue eyes, but for the gorgeous universe He created for me to enjoy. And, in time, I forgave Dan for shutting the door!
I was thankful for the outdoorsy type of life we led, for our co-workers, for the beautiful scenery. I was even thankful for a large bath tub that hung on the outside wall. Dan built up the fire, heated the water, and made it possible for all of us to enjoy a bath.
I learned to be thankful and thankfulness leads to contentment.
3. Improve where you can. Get creative.
Being content with what you have doesn’t mean you can’t improve your circumstances. I used cushions, quilts to use as throws over the old couch, and pictures on the walls to lighten the house and give it pizzazz.
You can do the same. Mirrors make small rooms look larger. Soft lights in dark corners can brighten the house. Diffusers bring delightful scents to a room that might be otherwise drab and maybe a bit smelly. Keep things clean and neat.
Cleanliness goes a long way toward contentment and joy.
I heard about a missionary who went to Alaska where it was dark for much of the winter. To brighten their house, they put tin foil on the ceiling which reflected the light and made the house look and feel much cheerier. Soon all the native people in the village had tin foil on their ceilings, too!
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Phil. 2:14-15
4. Don’t compare.
I have to be careful because sometimes I am envious of others’ nice houses and lovely furnishings. Then I become grouchy, and I complain. I have to stop, confess my bad attitude, and remember my blessings.
There were other missionaries in Chilanko Forks and some of them had nicer houses than we had. We decided we would not complain. How foolish it would have been to cause discord when we were there to reach the Indian folk for the Lord!
You can look down the street and see other houses that are fancier than yours.
Or you can see someone driving a new model car or the truck you’ve always wanted. It never fails: there is always someone who has something better than you. How much better to be content. Remember: contentment is the key to joy!
Don’t compare. That leads to frustration and bitterness. “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understand.” II Cor. 10:12
5. Find the joy. Laughter goes a long way towards contentment.
Our second child, Sherry, was born in Williams Lake.
I remember the long four-hour drive from town to our home. Bringing a baby into that setting didn’t daunt me because I’d seen that we could function, stay warm, and be safe even if we didn’t have a fancy house, no electronics, and no phone or TV. I couldn’t call home to ask Mom about how to raise my children or ask Google, Facebook, or Pinterest!
We had an outhouse and the Chilcotin winters registered the lowest temperatures anywhere in Canada. You don’t need reading material in the bathroom in that case – in and out, real fast! Dan learned that chopping wood in 50 below weather was a breeze – the wood just popped apart! Water we tossed into the air froze before it hit the ground.
There was beauty and joy all around us. We just had to have eyes to see it, and contentment gave us those eyes.
It all depends on your attitude. Cultivate cheerfulness. Praise others. Find the joy.
Improvise and find something to laugh about that will lift the spirits of those around you. Your attitude of contentment and peace will be contagious. Teach your children to be thankful and content with what they have.
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Phil. 4:6
6. Trust God in trying circumstances.
Brian was a toddler and learned to walk when we were there. One day when we traveled with another missionary family to visit the Indian people, we stopped in a meadow and had a picnic. We fried hamburgers in a cast iron skillet and then placed the skilled on the ground. Brian, walking unsteadily on the uneven ground, fell and put his little hand in the hot grease.
God gave me the wisdom to plunge his hand in ice water.
I kept it there despite his cries. He only had a red spot for a few days, and never a scar!
When the light plant was on the fritz, Dan helped fix it. It was about 50 or 60 degrees below zero. Once they had it repaired, they had to warm up the oil before they could pour it into the engine. Then they needed water, so they got the water truck and started pumping water into the tank. But the water wasn’t coming out. Dan went to the end of the hose and unclogged it.
It worked very well. The only problem was that the man on the truck had forgotten to turn off the pump. Dan got a shower of icy cold water! He came home frozen but got warmed up in a hurry in our cozy house.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” II Tim. 6:6
Contentment is a will-o-the-wisp kind of thing. You can have it one moment, and then, hey-presto! it’s gone. As soon as it’s gone, stop and think: why am I feeling discontented all of a sudden? Trace back your thoughts and find what made you feel so uneasy, so unpeaceful.
Confess your sin. Renew your fellowship with God. Pray about it. Take a big, deep breath. Contentment will return along with joy.
I learned to be content in Chilanko Forks because God was there.
He gave me so many blessings in that humble setting – my husband, two healthy children, lots of friends and work I enjoyed.
Contentment. Seriously. Find it. It will give you joy.
Virginia Ann Work
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