In the twilight moments between deep slumber and eyes-wide-open wakefulness, the heart speaks. As we rise from the depths of unconscious suspension and break the surface of floating oblivion, our first thoughts reveal what occupies our emotions — fears, desires, cravings, judgments.

A few weeks ago on my birthday, my “breaking the surface” thoughts were full of regrets. I will never know what it’s like to bear children. That door is swinging shut now. What is such a normal experience for so many people will never be mine, I thought. It’s so weird to think marriage and motherhood may not be part of my life.

I wasn’t indulging in self-defeat. I was simply acknowledging a death to this desire. Then other thoughts came to the fore:  I also don’t know what it’s like to live in a place where Christians are persecuted. Or to live through war or genocide in my hometown. These have been experiences that so far the Lord has also denied me — and I’m grateful for His will in those situations. It’s not always a bad thing to receive a “no” from our sovereign Lord.

Will God’s answer always be no to my prayers for marriage and even motherhood (in some form or another)? I don’t know. But unlike in years past, by God’s grace, I’m not upset about it. God has proven His faithfulness to me in so many ways over these past years that I cannot charge Him with being unfair to me. Because of this, He has also taught me a measure of contentment in the wait.

This is a lesson the Father gives to all His children — but it takes time to learn it.

Learning Contentment

The apostle Paul wrote that he had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11 NIV). I am grateful for one word in that incredible phrase — learned — because I tend to focus first on the “whatever the circumstances” part. If the venerable apostle had to learn to be content, I can expect no less.

What does contentment in varied circumstances look like? It is a gracious spirit that is steady and constant. A woman who has learned to be content “takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” to quote the old Timex ad. That slogan has its roots in nautical history. Prior to the development of a timepiece that could accurately keep time aboard a ship, sailors had no way to gauge longitude and navigation remained hazardous. They needed a timepiece that could withstand the changes in barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature, as well as the pitch and roll of the ship. The scientific challenge was so daunting that in 1714 Queen Anne signed an act offering a vast sum of 20,000 pounds to the one who could solve the problem of measuring longitude. One man, John Harrison, dedicated his life to the cause, and he was ultimately successful.

When we experience changes — the pressures of life, the heat of sin, the cold drafts of loneliness, the damp chill of disappointment, the pitch and roll of shifting circumstances — but we keep a steady pace, we are exhibiting contentment.

One woman who knew what it was like to wait on God was Hannah. In 1 Samuel 1:7 we read that Hannah endured both the shame of being childless and the provocation of her rival wife. “So it went on year by year,” the Bible says matter-of-factly. Even after she cried in prayer to the Lord and Eli the priest blessed her petition, she still had to wait. In verse 20, it says “in due time” Hannah conceived and bore a son. We don’t know exactly how long that was, but it still took some time.

In "The Art of Divine Contentment," Puritan author Thomas Watson notes one very important aspect of how Hannah handled her emotions during the wait: “When any burden is upon the spirit, prayer gives vent, it easeth the heart. Hannah's spirit was burdened; ‘I am’ says she, ‘a woman of a sorrowful spirit.’ Now having prayed, and wept, she went away, and was no more sad; only here is the difference between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint; in the one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God.”