content woman

How to Feel Content … No Matter What

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well feed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Philippines 4: 11-13

Is it possible to have contentment … a peace separate from our circumstances … when we are loving someone who is mentally ill?  Especially when it is a spouse and your whole life is upside down?  When it is a child and their prospects are damaged and our daily lives are so changed? Or it is a parent and you have to parent them?

Look again at what Paul says:  “I have learned the secret of being content.”  Contentment can be learned with God’s grace. 

In fact, Paul had to learn it.  Paul did not have an easy life.  Here’s what Paul says about his line in 2 Corinthians 11: 23-29. 

23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

We don’t have Paul’s problems, but we don’t have easy lives either. To top it off, we live in a culture that wants us to be discontented. For many years, the marketers wanted us to be discontent. Now the marketers, the politicians and our neighbors with anti-everything yard signs want us to be discontent.

We already can feel like we got robbed. We see other people with normal kids, normal spouses, normal parents and a normal life. We feel envy. And we may think that God must have been looking the other way when our loved ones got sick. Or that God doesn’t love us as much as He loves everyone else.

Yes, most of us have head knowledge … Bible knowledge … that the source and strength of all contentment is God himself. Contentment is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. It’s not a denial of suffering or injustice. It’s an inner condition of our hearts that is cultivated over time. Let’s look at what contentment is and what it is not.

What Contentment Is

True contentment is inner peace and calmness. If you look calm on the outside, but you’re a frantic basket case on the inside, you’re not content.

To be content, you have to feel the pain of your suffering. God uses this to help us find contentment in Jesus. So, in an odd way, you have feel enormous discontent to get to the point where you learn to be feel content.

Contentment comes from within. You can’t distract your situation away. Or commit sin (such as sinking into substance abuse of one kind or another) to avoid it.

My church’s founding pastor Rich Nathan gave a sermon in 2004 that offered a three-part plan to develop contentment that I can’t improve on at all. 

Three Steps to Contentment

No. 1:  Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life. Practice surrender.

The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, have to pass through God’s hands before they happen. As Elisabeth Elliott put it: “Whatever happens is assigned.”

God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.

Matthew 10:29-30:  Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.

The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself.  Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it?  Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.

And we learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, a real relationship with God.

Rich suggested that we engage in a spiritual exercise when we are upset about our life situation. That we say:  Just for today, I choose to believe that you are in control of my life. Just for today, I will choose to trust that you know what is best for me and for the kingdom. Like Joseph, I’m going to say that others may have intended what happened to me for evil, but you intended it for good.  You are good. Your will is good.

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

Start being grateful for the littlest things:  grass, sky, trees.  Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.

No. 3: Practice abiding.

This means that you connect with God’s person.  You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.

Pastor Rich encouraged us to:

Breathe in the presence of God. Welcome the Holy Spirit into areas that you’ve been grumbling about in the past, areas where you are discontented, areas where you are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life.

Accept God’s sovereignty.  Offer thanksgiving. Invite God into your situations and abide with him. Contentment will come.

A Caregiver’s Secret Weapon: Abiding in God

Loving someone who has a mental illness often means struggling with despair.  You may live with unpredictable and frightening events.  You may struggle with a different kind of grief … the loss of a person who is still alive.

People who have a relationship with Jesus have a great advantage in dealing with this situation.  Jesus invites His own not only to trust him, but to abide in Him.  He invites us to stop looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and find His light instead.

As caregivers for the mentally ill, we frequently feel powerless.  This is the condition needed to feel the presence of God: to be empty and powerless, as powerless as the crucified Christ appeared on the cross.  So in some ways, this situation does allow us to more easily abide in the Lord.

This summer I went to a monastery for a silent retreat to see what God had for me in increasing my relationship with Him.  In the monastery library, I found an old book called “Practicing the Prayer of Presence” by Adrian van Kaan and Susan Muto.

They wrote: “For it is in the misery of our powerlessness that we call down upon ourselves and others the Infinite Glory and Mercy of God.”

Jesus invites us to abide in Him while He abides in us. Jesus spoke about this in John 17: 25-26 in his prayer for believers at the Last Supper.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Then again in John 15:4-5:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 14:2020 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

God dwells within us.  But we also dwell with our own thoughts, fears, emotions and concerns.

Here’s some good news:  Your mind is not all there is to you. Your thoughts are just thoughts. No matter how loud, they are not masters, giving orders that have to be obeyed.

Even better, if we acknowledge our negative thoughts, feelings and body sensations, we prevent the mind from spiraling into an aversion. Fighting and flaying about in our own mind does not make an environment where the Prince of Peace can abide.

Brooding about why things happen and worrying about what’s likely to happen next … focusing on anxiety, tiredness, etc., actually strengthens the negative as it keeps you focused on fear rather than the reality of God’s desire to be present with you.

Next time:  How Christian meditation and mindfulness can help.