Is Discontentment Ruining Your Spiritual Life?

I find the enemy of contentment is not a laundry list of things. It’s that one item that comes to mind when you survey your life and think, “If I just had this one thing, then it would all be good.”

As a single Christian woman approaching her 30s, my “one thing” sometimes falls in the dating/relationship category. There have also been seasons where the one thing was a certain job situation. I’ve known friends whose “one thing” has been a child, a house, an income bracket, a relationship or even a ministry accomplishment.

The “one thing” is the dream deferred. It’s the goal on the horizon that seems perpetually out of reach.

None of these dreams are bad in and of themselves. Neither is the desire for them. In fact, usually my dream—my “one thing”—is something I’ve prayed about and am waiting on God for.

The problem comes when what started out as patient waiting morphs into discontented striving. Instead of looking to God’s hand to provide in his perfect timing, suddenly God’s hand appears like a closed fist. I no longer wait with hope. I wait with anxiety. I wait with frantic yet useless activity. I wait, sometimes, with anger—anger at God, anger at my circumstances.

No longer just “one thing,” my desire for the thing grows until it overwhelms the scenery of life. It becomes a constant hum of discontentment. It’s a gnawing pest eating away at joy. It’s a void that happy times trip over and disappear into. The lack of the “one thing” soon dwarfs the existence of all the other things, all other blessings in life.

Eve’s Discontentment

When reading Genesis, I notice that this type of discontentment is literally one of Satan’s oldest tricks. It goes right back to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve enjoyed everything she could want in life—all her needs were perfectly met. On top of that, she enjoyed unmitigated companionship with God in the Garden.

Yet in the midst of paradise, the enemy turned her attention to the one thing she couldn’t have. With the absence of her “one thing” she was convinced God was holding out on her, that God didn’t have her best interests at heart. The enemy insinuated that she deserved this one thing, and because she deserved it, anything in pursuit of it was justifiable—even defying God and His wisdom.

Eve had everything that really mattered right in front of her, but she couldn’t see it because she became discontent about one thing.

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The enemy of our souls is not original. He’s still using the same playbook. I’ve heard those same lies: “If God loves you, why hasn’t he given you what you want so badly? Surely He’s forgotten about you. Surely His timing is wrong. You are on your own with this one.” Satan would aim to reshape my entire life around the absence of one thing.

Cultivating a Quiet Heart

In seasons where I’m feeling that gnawing lack, I have to remind myself to take my eyes off the one thing and place them back on God. I have to be vigilant to turn my thoughts towards gratitude. When not focused on the things I lack, I’m finally able to look up enough to see all the ways God is caring for me and providing for me—even if those gifts may not take the form I want in this very moment (Psalm 131:2-3).

The Bible says to cultivate a quiet heart (Psalm 131:2). Cultivating is a good word. It’s the image of a farmer plowing a field over and over, turning over new soil, planting new seeds. To cultivate a quiet heart, I have to get the tread of my thoughts out of the rut they so easily follow down into discontent. I have to plant seeds of hope in those worn furrows.

If faith is confidence in what we hope for and the assurance of what we do not yet see (Hebrews 11:1), then our darkest waiting days are also opportunities to demonstrate renewed faith in God’s character over the dismal outlook of our circumstances. At times I need to share my frustration with others who are able to hold out fresh hope to me when I don’t have it for myself.

When the “one thing” looms large, and those seasons come and go, I turn my anxious thoughts to thank God for the many things He has given, one of the greatest of which is the comfort of knowing He has not forgotten his good plans for me.

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