My husband and I were in yet another difficult and frustrating conversation which was going nowhere. You know the kind, when both of you are trying to explain your concerns about the relationship but you have completely different points of view. One of you wants something more, something better, but the other one is perfectly fine with how things are, so there's this tension between two different worlds of thought and expectation.
That's when he asked "the question". He asked me if I ever thought that I would ever be able to be a content person. The question didn't just come out of the blue and had obviously been stirring in both of our minds since our pastor had talked about contentment on the previous Sunday. I was unsettled about the subject then and I certainly was at this point.
On Sunday, we had met with a small group to discuss the idea of contentment and had worked through the discussion questions that went along with the topic. I had decided at that point that there were clearly parts of my life that I was content with and some that I clearly was not. I was content with my material world, which is the area we think of most, but I was not content with my relationships or about myself personally. In those areas, I have always wanted more. But when he asked if I was a content person, I suddenly realized a couple of things.
First, I realized that I don't have a lot of respect for the concept of contentment. What I mean is that I view contentment as laziness, as weakness, as giving into mediocrity. The second thing I realized is that I fear contentment. I realized that I fear being taken advantage of as a person if I give into not striving for better relationships. I fear having to settle for less than what I hope for in myself and in my desire to serve God. It was at that point that I felt God was clearly telling me that I was confusing contentment with complacency.
As I started to study the difference between these two factions, I found a lot of writing about the subject, which tells me that that I am not alone in my misunderstanding. The first thing we need to do is to define each one:
contentment (Merriam-Webster)--the state of being happy and satisfied
content (Greek definition)--satisfied, independent (not dependent on outside sources)
complacency (Merriam-Webster)--a feeling of being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better, often without awareness of some potential danger or defect
In 1 Timothy 6:6-10, Paul tells Timothy that we need to be content with what we have, that always desiring more and more resources will take our eyes off of what is truly important. He explains that since we bring nothing into the world and can't take anything out of it, we don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that money and things will bring us happiness. He says that true godliness and contentment is what will bring joy. But, then in verse 11, he tells him to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul implores the people to strain towards what lies ahead, to press on towards the prize of righteousness.
So. how do we meld these two teachings into one? How do we have contentment and yet strive for something better? Doesn't wanting something better produce it's own discontentment? God clearly has answers to these questions and that's what I was after. As I started to compare contentment with complacency, I found some stark differences.
Contentment means having a hope that our lives and our situations could be better, but trusting God to move us forward toward that goal.
Complacency is settling with how life is now and not wanting to participate in the work growth requires.
Contentment is having a dream to grow into a person more like Christ, but accepting that it may mean dealing with issues in our lives that are uncomfortable or hard to admit.
Complacency is not striving for a dream out of fear.
Contentment takes courage because we may need to die to some of our own selfish desires
Complacency is giving into the easier path of giving into the things that hold us back and keep us in bondage.
Contentment is accepting our circumstances, even if they are difficult, and learning to leverage them to use for our own personal growth and for encouraging others.
Complacency is "accepting" our circumstances but giving into a victim mentality that keeps us stuck and inside of ourselves.
Contentment is being satisfied in Him and what He has brought into our lives, but not being satisfied with our lack of maturity or presence of sin.
Complacency is rationalizing our shortcomings and being "satisfied" with them while trying to distract ourselves from our actual dissatisfaction.
Contentment is being grateful but not giving into idleness.
Complacency is being satisfied enough to not move out of our comfort zone.
The tricky thing is that we can convince ourselves that we are content, when in actuality, we are just scared. Scared of the next step. Scared of what will happen if we admit our discontentment even to ourselves. Scared of what taking action will require.
After studying what people had written about the subject I then took my questions to God Himself. After praying and asking for Him to speak to me directly, He spoke very clearly. In fact as I was imploring Him for wisdom, I must have been a bit wordy because He finally told me to stop talking and just listen!
He told me that I need to stop trying to control the search for my own version of contentment. That version had consisted of me being in control and trying to accomplish the things that He would do such a better job with. I needed to stop being so frantic in resisting the threat of complacency since I had fallen prey to it before and was hurt by the result. Contentment wasn't really the enemy, complacency was, but my focus had centered on battling it.
His direction for me was to rest in Him, to stop striving so hard to do what I think I need to do and to just submit to His lead. If I could do these things, contentment would come. My job is to be obedient to do the work that He is calling me to do and to be willing to step out of my comfort zone when necessary. My job is also to focus on others and not on myself, which is what the battling of complacency had produced..
He then gave me a word picture of how to merge contentment with pursuit. I pictured our lives as being in a river . The world and the harshness of the evil in it is always trying to pull us downstream. For those of us who are followers of Christ, we are swimming upstream by shear nature of our position. There is no staying in one place. There is no giving up. If we become complacent, we will be pulled downstream before we even realize what happened. God's goal for us is to fight the current and to constantly be making progress in moving upstream, toward Him. We will be the ones swimming, but He will give us the strength to do it. We will often become tired and uncomfortable but we can be content with knowing that there is purpose in it. Our fight might seem unending but we can be content knowing that the day will come when the battle will be complete. We may feel at times that we are swimming by ourselves, but we can be content in the fact that there are many others with us with the exciting hope of pulling others off the shore to join us.
In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul says to fight the good fight. Psalm 28 :7 says that God is our strength and our shield. That perfect blend keeps up pressing on while having joy in the process. Now, that makes sense! Hope this understanding has helped you as much as it has helped me. Keep swimming and enjoy the ride!