“…I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4: 11-13
About eight years ago, I wanted something desperately. I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to breathe if I didn’t get this thing, this blessing, this necessity-for-happiness. But circumstances meant that I could never have my heart’s desire. Ever. And so, I was walking misery.
And it was while I was out walking for exercise one day that this verse flooded my soul. Yes, God confirmed, He would never give me my sought-after thing. And He was ok with that. He told me I could choose to be content in my current circumstances, with the blessings He had already given me, or I could choose to be despondent, yearning for something I’d never receive.
Well, who wants to be despondent? I mean, who chooses that option? Me. I was choosing it. And in that moment, I realized I didn’t have to feel that way. I could choose to be content. Like Paul, I learned the secret of contentment: mustering Christ’s strength (not my own), I chose to breathe thankfulness for what I already had and let go of what would never be mine. Peace flooded my soul.
Peace and discontentment do not reside together. Angst is desire’s best friend. This gets tricky, though. I believe that God gives us dreams to chase after, ambitions to pursue. But discerning the ambitions wrought by His hand from the selfish desires of our fleshly hearts can be difficult.
How can I determine one from the other?
As Susan pointed out, misery may hold a clue. Despondency? This is not the will of God. Even in His most excruciating moments, Jesus did not become despondent. His plea for another way, though intense beyond imagination, did not smoother His contentment in the will of God. Conversely, Jesus was still able to lay down His angst and submit to the will of the Father.
I believe Paul tells us. All things can be done in the strength of the Spirit of God. And that strength smoothers unhappiness. That strength provides the contentment we long for, even when what we sought is not what is given.