[I wrote this for Come Away – a uniquely African digital platform for Christian women]
I always ask for the window seat when I check in for a flight. I love everything about flying: the take-off, the altitude cruising, the plastic cutlery. And I never get tired of the small oval view of blurred runway, quiet clouds, collages of rivers and roads.
But on a recent flight, I regretted my usual request. I was wedged up against the side of the plane – trapped by two fellow passengers who were mad at the universe. I longed to escape to the relative tranquillity of the aisle, where I could turn my back on their caustic haranguing and pretend to sleep.
These two passengers were way over the weight limit. They weren’t traveling light with two pieces of discreet hand luggage: the thrill of adventure and calm perspective. Oh no. They’d lugged wheelie suitcases aboard full of fear, restlessness, aggression, turmoil, sadness, impatience, impulsiveness, depression and confusion. They were seriously not content.
Our flight was just short of two hours, and in that time my co-travellers managed to unpack: objections to the heat, protests about the in-flight menu choice and how slow the drinks trolley had been to arrive at our row, anxiety over a smooth landing, resentment towards various family members, sad resignation to being over fifty and feeling suddenly valueless in the working world, excuses about money and divorce and dodgy job choices, and complaints about the governments both north and south of the Limpopo River over which we flew.
I felt irritated and self-righteous.
Until I felt annoyed that I couldn’t have my choice of sandwich on brown bread instead of white, and deflated because I didn’t look like the bikini model on the Thai beach in the airline magazine. I realised soberly that I hadn’t left all my junk on the ground either. There was no escaping what was in my head and heart, even though most of my reality was 30 000 feet below me.
We are not expecting to experience any turbulence on this flight…
Contentment can be defined as wanting no more than you have. It’s being satisfied in a deep, thoroughly un-turbulent, God-has-my-back kind of way. Contentment is also God’s will for you. So if you’re churning with some of the emotions that were jammed into the overhead compartments on my flight, it’s worth being honest with God and yourself.
1 John 2:16 says, ‘For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.’ Pleasure, possessions, prestige. Don’t make them your idols. Blah blah. We know this. Surely, then, as Christians, we should be immune to the dark rumblings of discontent? Paul says that ‘if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content’ (1 Timothy 6:8) (even if the food comes on white bread instead of brown).
So why aren’t we content?
There are two reasons why saved, sanctified, Spirit-filled Jesus-following people who really should know better, still experience pangs of discontent: choice and belief.
CHOICE: Chicken or beef?
Contentment is a choice.
We choose what we think (2 Corinthians 10:5). We choose what we do and say. And sometimes we make stupid choices.
We choose to compare ourselves to others – the quickest way to lose joy and confidence.
We choose to say, ‘If I could just go here see that meet them marry him have that buy this work there or emigrate – then I’ll be content!’ We choose how we spend our time, and how much of that time is spent in the presence of Jesus, whose grace is always, in every circumstance, sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We choose to feel sorry for ourselves, instead of channelling time and emotional energy into others. We choose to forget that the God who holds every molecule of the infinite universe in the palm of his hand is our intimate, loving provider and sustainer. We choose to put our hope in politics, postgrad degrees, husbands, careers, kids, properties, dress sizes, anti-wrinkle creams and eventual dreams, instead of in the Lover of our souls who commands the storms and who leads us to safe landings on smooth runways.
BELIEF: This is your Captain speaking…
God has spoken to us through his Word, giving us all the reasons why we should be content. Our contentment, then, speaks of what we believe. Really believe.
If we really believe God when he says that Christ is enough, that His plans for us are perfect, that he won’t allow anything to fall onto our lives that hasn’t first passed through his fingers, that he withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11), that he is perfect in love, power and wisdom – then we wouldn’t be discontent.
Again – where is your hope? What do you really trust? I mean, seatbelts are a nice idea and all, but if the plane bursts into flame or plummets to ocean depths, they just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
I often need to pray like the father in Mark 9:24 – ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’ Sometimes I need to pray it every day. Sometimes I need to pray it every ten minutes.
It’s not about you. It’s not even about the frequent flyers in first class.
Choosing contentment is not about our happiness (though it’s generally a bonus perk). It’s about God’s glory. Our contentment magnifies his splendour because ‘those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.’ (Psalm 34:5) When we are content – resting and hoping in Jesus regardless of turbulence or emergency landings – we are most beautiful. When we leave our longings with him and decide to enjoy his limitless mercies, positioning ourselves to best reflect his magnificence, we draw people to his light.
Jesus said, ‘I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.’ (John 14:27) I think if I really understood this I wouldn’t have an anxious day for the rest of my life. Pray that God would help you to receive his gift of peace as you choose to invest your hope in him. His grace is duty free.
. . .
Happy weekend, friend.
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