Let’s explore a story of pilgrimage inspired by Psalm 84:5. When we relocated to South Africa in 2012, one of my prayers was that I could meet the challenges of a year abroad with gratitude and contentment no matter what we faced, just like Paul describes in Philippians 4.
The great apostle says that he “learned the secret of being content” which leads me to believe that this heart condition is something I can gain by God’s grace even if I do not possess it naturally (which I do not), so I prayed earnestly for this gift.
Sometimes unusual or dramatic circumstances help us to seek God earnestly, with an urgency that we might not otherwise employ in our everyday life. A year in Africa was the unusual challenge that sent me to my knees. I did not want to squander this precious gift with a heart of dissatisfaction and ingratitude.
We all have experienced trying situations that threaten our fragile hold on contentment: being newly married, seeing a marriage end, bringing home a new baby, facing infertility, changing or losing a job, illness, moving, to name a few. For me it was relocating across the world with my husband and four children.
I did not want to spend a year in beautiful, glorious South Africa pining for Florida, and then get back to Florida with regret that I did not fully embrace the gift of South Africa. As I considered the condition of my heart, I began to realize that I could find contentment by being fully present in today, not by obsessing about yesterday, nor caught up in worry about tomorrow, but instead by having gratitude for t-o-d-a-y. I realized that I had a habit of spending my emotional energy in three main ways:
Regret or longing: preoccupied over the past, either with regret and disappointment for failures or with longing for something lost.
Fear: Fear of the future and all the potential difficulties that loom.
Dissatisfaction: Frustration that the present moment is not living up to my expectations.
When I listen to conversations around me, it seems that we have an epidemic of discontentment. I have come to suspect that the heart of a woman trends easily toward disappointment in life.
Take Eve for example — she was in paradise, enjoying complete openness and intimacy with her Creator. She was in a blissful relationship with a man designed by God just for her and she for him. They were in paradise, gorgeous and naked, frolicking about the Garden of Eden. What did she need with some boring old apple when she had such freedom and pleasure?
And, yet, beautiful Eve was lured by Satan’s appeal that she was missing out, that God was trying to keep her from some great knowledge, some vast universe beyond her present experience. Satan was working on her sense of wanting more, her propensity toward dissatisfaction. And how well I know this appeal. I have fallen prey to dissatisfaction in the midst of great blessing more times, than I wish to count.
As I sought God for contentment, I began to abide in the present moment of each day. As I practiced presence, I gradually found that God’s grace was sufficient for me in a magnificent way that I had never experienced before. I began to live the familiar verse and song, “This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118) Slowly, I found more peace and joy in the present moment, unclouded by regret, fear, or dissatisfaction.
Was every moment sunshiny bliss? Of course not, but as Corrie Ten Boom says, quoting a truth imparted by her mother, “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings, it’s something we make inside ourselves.” (The Hiding Place, page 36) And truly we cannot create happiness inside ourselves — it is a gift from God.
We play our part by desiring His joy. As we seek to center our hearts on God, we can begin to experience the unfolding of the day as His gift to us. He desires to give us an unshakable happiness and joy that is not dependent on our circumstances.
I share this pilgrimage into contentment with you in order to praise God’s abundant grace, which is generously poured out despite my own weakness and failure. I am not able to do this for myself, and I lose my peace and contentment in the blink of an eye when I am not connected into God as the source of my joy. Even now, my day can dissolve into negativity when I set my eyes on others’ deficiencies instead of taking my own heart to Father.
The Lord drew my family together in a special way during our year in Africa, but it does not take such dramatic circumstances. This experience can be found by anyone who asks God.
It is worth seeking.
What freedom to know God’s presence no matter how the day unfolds. May you be filled with a confidence of heart as you find your strength in Him.