Two Sides of Discontent

discontentA little voice inside me–a psychic mini-me–perpetually pesters and agitates me.

It gnaws incessantly at my soul screaming that I have settled for less than I should and become satisfied in that mediocrity.

Every time I find myself comfortable, feeling at ease with where I am and at peace with who I am becoming, this nagging sense of restlessness circulates with my platelets infecting my whole being with “there has to be more!”

I hate that little guy. He literally will not shut up and leave me alone.

His name is Discontent.

As a Jesus follower I know I am to be utterly and thoroughly satisfied with and in Him. I need nothing more. I want no one else. I am fully complete in him and finally at home in His grace.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” Frederick Keonig

Scripture sings the praise of this virtue over and over:

  • “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” (Psalm 131:2)
  • “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” (Proverbs 19:23)
  • “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12)
  • “Godliness with contentment is great gain…But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8)

It is apparent throughout the Message of God that we are to be people who live with settled hearts, restful souls and surrendered spirits.

“Contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of ten thousand desires makes a wise and a happy purchase.” John Balquy

Yet, there is a longing in me that wakes me from sleep, stirs me from comfort and evicts me from satisfaction. This little nemesis rears his ugly head and tells me things are not as they are supposed to be.

All that rest and peace stuff dissipates like so much dust in the wind.

Much of my confidence in Scripture is based on its brutal honesty…it is real about how things are and authentic about how people are in those realities. It is unfiltered and un-retouched.

Part of that raw truth is found in the pervasive presence of paradox in the whole of the Story. So often it appears that two fully contradictory things are simultaneously true. Often things that seem polemical are in fact collegial.

One such enigma is this paradox of discontent. I am to be a person purely content in God and passionately discontent with the world all at once. Discontent is at once my greatest struggle and greatest strength.

“The essence of man is, discontent, divine discontent; a sort of love without a beloved, the ache we feel in a member we no longer have.” Jose’ Ortega y Gasset

I want nothing but long for more. I am full of joy but drowning in sorrow. I am utterly at peace with the present but absolutely obsessed with the future. I am tickled pink with how things are but totally vexed because they are not as they should be.

I live the two sides of discontent all the time. And that is how it is meant to be.

Look at how Scripture describes this holy dissatisfaction:

  • “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)
  •  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
  •  “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture said, streams of living water will flow from him.’” (John 7:37)
  •  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost form the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:6)

Without contentment, I would be envious of evil, desirous of this world and covetous of what other’s possess. When I am content, I am living in the hopeful trust that God is good, that He is in control and that I am deeply loved by Him in spite of what I see around me.

Without discontent, I would be settled in mediocrity, tranquil with status quo and satisfied with average. When I am discontent, I am living in the honest truth that injustice isn’t right, inequity isn’t fair and that our world is desperately broken before God because of what I see around me.

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.” Thomas Edison

The only thing that moves me forward is discontent. The only thing that keeps me sane as I go is contentment.

So is discontent right or wrong; good or bad; helpful or harmful; virtue or vice?

Yes!

It simply depends on this: is the source of my discontent the shallow craving of my heart or the profound desire of God’s?

So say hello to my little friend…he isn’t going to shut up any time soon!

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