Here’s a quick list – in no way comprehensive – of things that rob us of contentment or encourage us toward contentment. Some things are external, others are internal. Some things might be occasional robbers, but not universal. Other things (like insecurity) are universal robbers of contentment.
Insecurity – It’s hard to be content while thinking and worrying about yourself
Magazines – Pressure to look a certain way, have certain things, be this or that, listen to this music, decorate your house a certain way. It’s hard to be content when someone’s pointing out to you all you don’t have or aren’t.
Social Media – Under the guise of keeping others up to date, it’s easy to unintentionally promote yourself, to make others feel they don’t measure up, or to feel discouraged at your own lack of…..you name it. (On the other hand, social media connects us in some wonderful ways)
Grumbling and Complaining – Just read a few chapters from the Exodus account of the Israelites wandering in the desert and you’ll understand the depth that complaining and grumbling can ravage a contented heart. How can a people go from being miraculously saved one moment to whining about their food the next? If we look at our own lives, we know the answer: easily.
Impatience – Until recently, I considered my frustration with my children to be an anger issue. And then the light came on inside my heart. It’s not anger. It’s impatience. I am too quickly irritated. Living one breath away from frustration is not conducive for contentment. It’s hard to feel at peace with life when our hearts teeter on the edge of being aggravated.
Fear – It’s almost impossible to identify all the various ways fear rages in our hearts and lives. Just last evening, I was anxious to the degree that I was distracted from the present moment and what could have been a fun time with my family. I was robbed of contentment.
Trust – The opposite of fear. When we surrender ourselves to the goodness and care of the Shepherd, we lie down and rest in safety.
God’s Glory – Consider the theophanies of Scripture (those moments when God’s presence is manifest among his people). Moses on the mountain or in the tent of meeting, Elijah at Horeb, Isaiah in the temple, Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. When God’s glory shows up, the trivialities of life are consumed by His fire. Read through Psalm 96. If we were to live with God’s glory constant in our sight, the passion of our lives, I think we would be quite content.
Simplicity – Richard Foster has an excellent chapter in Celebration of Discipline on practicing simplicity (he’s got a whole book on it, too). Simplicity doesn’t mean we deny ourselves good things to be more holy, but rather that live with a proper estimation of what is absolutely necessary. When it all boils down, we could do with out a lot of our stuff. And when we are at peace with that, we find contentment.
Healthy Relationships – Sweet communion with those we love. That champions contentment. When we hang out with others who have an eternal focus, it garners the same in us. When we hang out with those steeped in fear and grumbling, it turns our hearts likewise. We must be careful who we bind ourselves to emotionally.