The Secret of Contentment
How can you trust God amidst your circumstances?
I'd been praying for a husband for a long time.
In fact, I adapted Hannah's request for a son in 1 Samuel 1:11 to my situation: "O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a [husband], then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life" (English Standard Version).
I revealed this request to a married friend, but she remarked, "You should be content no matter the circumstances," then addressed how Hannah was wrong to "bargain with and try to manipulate" God.
I disagreed with her interpretation of Hannah's prayer, because Hannah seemed heartfelt and honest; and even as much as she wanted a child, it was not an, "If you do this, I'll do this, God," kind of bargain. She was simply making her requests known to her Lord, whom she knew personally and deeply.
That's what I wanted to do with my request for a husband, but I also agreed with my friend that I should be content no matter what my circumstances. But was my request rooted in a lack of contentment?
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul talked about contentment: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances," he wrote (v.11, New International Version). Yet Paul suffered through many hard times. He was imprisoned unjustly and also endured an unknown, constant physical affliction.
And still he insisted he was content. The word he uses comes from the Greek autarkace, meaning to be satisfied with one's lot or independent of external circumstances.
I've been to a handful of the poorest countries in the world. I've seen people who did not know where their next meal would come from or if they'd have one, and yet they often had a joyful spirit. They take care of their meager stash of belongings, and they love and value people.
One family I met lives on the same amount in a year as what a middle-class American earns in a week. Yet the middle class is often dissatisfied with life, wanting more.
So how does this compare with today's Christian, especially those living in an increasingly materialistic world?
As humans, we're born with an insatiable hunger for more. Children want more toys, different toys, bigger toys. When we grow up, we want nicer cars, more clothes, exotic travel.
If we're single, we want to be married, if married we want children; if we live in an apartment, we want a house. Whatever it is, we have a propensity to want more and more. If you think, I'll be happy when/if (fill in the blank), then that's not true contentment.
Instead, we can actually take a lesson from Hannah, and ask God to change our circumstances, yet trust Him regardless of the outcome.
In a sense, true contentment is simply a matter of trust -- trusting in God despite our situation, and accepting and finding satisfaction in whatever He gives us.
Even in my fervent prayers for a husband, I began to discover that contentment wasn't really about getting what I wanted; it was more a matter of changing my perspective to want what God gave me.
More than that, it is about putting my confidence in the God who holds the whole world in His hand. Being content requires we trust that God knows what He's doing (and He does!). Giving thanks in all circumstances, even the ones we don't like, helps us be content. It's an attitude, a choice.
Real contentment comes when we stand back and say to ourselves, "I don't need this to be happy."
But none of this happens without being confident in the Lord and His plan.
Reading the Bible daily has made all the difference for me. It helps me get to know the Lord and continually aligns me with His will and reminds me that He can be trusted no matter the circumstances.
I didn't like turning 30 without a diamond on my left ring finger. If I would have had my way, I would have gotten married at 21. But I knew God had it under His control. I still hoped. I still prayed. My journals are jammed with prayers for a husband.
Similarly, friends of mine were unable to have children for a long time. They conceived and miscarried. They conceived a second time and lost the unborn baby again. Then they conceived yet again, and finally had a son.
Yes, they want more children, and they are honest about it -- but they are enjoying the gift of a son that God has given them. They pray for more, but they know that God has a plan for their lives and that they are walking in it.
As they follow God, they understand that though they are not getting exactly what they want, God uses the trials and hardships to draw them -- and us -- closer to Him and make us more like Him.
Being content is not dependent on God's provisions, material or otherwise -- it's consciously choosing to believe God.
For everything we have, we are simply stewards of it as a gift from God. Our money is His. Our cars are His. Our families are His. Everything that "belongs" to us really belongs to God. We deserve nothing, and everything we do receive is a gift from God.
Including my husband.
For more than 10 years, I waited and hoped and prayed for a spouse. I understood the limitations of modeling Hannah's prayer -- just because God gave her a son (and later more) wasn't a promise that He'd give me a husband. I simply wanted to make the desires of my heart known to my God.
And although God may not have brought Kevin into my life as early as I wanted Him to, I learned a bit about true contentment in the time of waiting.