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6 Steps to Handling Holy Discontent

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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 fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. Philippians 4:11-12

These words have been ringing through my mind for months, possibly even years.

I have learned to be content in all situations...

The truth is that I am not content. I haven't been content in a really long time. I am wrestling with a genuine discontentment in my life, and the words of scripture haunt me.

Let's be honest: I have it all! I am beyond blessed in life. I have an amazing husband who loves me as Christ loves the church. My kids are amazing young adults doing well in this life with incredible futures ahead of them. I have a great job working with wonderful people.

And, of course, I have a God who loves me and has put my life back together as only a loving, sovereign God can do.

What is there to be discontent about?

Truthfully, I have no reason to be discontent, but I have this growing sense of frustration deep within my soul. I find myself restless, thinking there has to be more in this life. I will likely go from a full house--all three kids in the home--to an empty next overnight this year. I struggle with the reality that I missed so much of my kids' lives trying to make a living and now their childhoods are over.

I am burned out.

I am exhausted.

I am tired of striving for more.

I am discontent in this life.

I've done a lot of soul-searching over the last few years to get to the root cause. I've looked back at the seasons in my life where I felt most fulfilled, most content. I know much of my discontent has to do with a lack of work-life balance, the sense that my life revolves around a job rather than the most important things in this life--my faith, my family, my passion. I know I feel trapped, as if the many years of struggles as a single mom have left me so far behind financially that retirement seems impossible.

But it's more than that. I simply feel that God created me for more than this, that He has a bigger and yet unfinished plan for me. I know what my heart longs for, but I struggle with how to get from where I am to where I want to be. If I had my way, I would literally start all over and embark on a brand new career (a term I use very lightly). But how do you start over when you have a mortgage and kids and responsibilities?

As I wrestle with the discontentment in my life, I am learning to find the perfect peace of God in spite of circumstances. And, perhaps that's what Paul actually referred to in Philippians 4. I think there's a holy discontentment--one that drives us to the feet of the Savior and to explore God's plan for our lives. I think a holy discontentment drives us to pursue the abundant life for which God created us. I think a holy discontentment arises in our lives when we are not moving in the purpose for which God created us.

So how do we deal with this type of holy discontentment? As I fell on my knees before God this week, I sensed Him telling me six simple ways of dealing with discontentment.

1. Wait for God

Can I be honest? I think in my discontent, I have jumped ahead of God in the last few years. I've been so desperate to move forward that I've made changes without hearing Him give me directions.

No more.

Yesterday, as I poured out my heart to God, I had an overwhelming sense that I simply need to wait. Wait for His direction. Wait for His voice. Wait for Him to guide my steps. Just as the Israelites in the wilderness, I find myself begging for a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide my steps.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; Psalm 37:7

2. Trust His Plan

As I said, I've done a lot of reflecting on life in the last few years. The truth is that God has always been faithful. Always. His faithfulness most definitely doesn't mean easy, but it means in His time, in His way, He has always come through. It means He has taken some of the most awful, painful circumstances this life can throw at me and made something beautiful.

With over 40 years of following God, I can truly say He is faithful, He is good, His mercies are new every morning. I know even in this season of discontentment, He has a plan--a plan I can trust. It may take some time for my heart and brain to remember these lessons learned in the wilderness, but I will continue to remind myself of His faithfulness until they are again etched deep within my soul. I will continue to think on the good things of God (Philippians 4:8) until my mind is completely renewed (Romans 12:2).

3. Embrace the Journey

If there is one wise piece of advice I have received in my entire life, it would simply be to embrace the journey because it is the journey that changes us. Go back to the book of Exodus and read the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. God told them to set up camp. Not wander aimlessly. Set up camp. Plan to stay for a while. Make it home. Why?

Because God did incredible wonders in their presence in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness where the Israelites actually learned God's goodness and faithfulness. It was in the wilderness where He tenderly cared for their every need from daily food to clothes that didn't wear out. It was in the wilderness where He showed them the true condition of their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2) and molded them into His image.

I encourage you to search the scripture and look for all the Biblical characters who were used by God and see if they spent time in the wilderness. Abraham. Moses. David. Elijah. Paul. Over and over we see God sending His servants to the wilderness for a time of getting to know Him.

The wilderness is a time of allowing God to do a mighty work in you so He can do a mighty work through you.

4. Explore Your Life

I am in a time of self-exploration--again. Back when I walked through my divorce, I went through a period of rediscovering who I am, and what I want from life. I found new activities that gave me energy and strength and taught me how and where to meet with God. Now, some twelve years later, I am in a new season of life and am again rediscovering myself. The things I loved back then--things like running--are no longer an option due to injuries.

It's time to start all over.

The biggest question I ask is simply this: "If money were no object, what would I do with my life?" I know without a doubt it involves people. It involves encouraging others to walk more closely to the Father. It involves taking the lessons God has given me and sharing them with the world.

But there's more. What activities do I enjoy? How is my relationship with God? What obstacles am I encountering that prevent me from moving forward? What do I need to eliminate from my life? What do I need to add?

Perhaps the most crucial question is this: Am I willing to do whatever it takes to create the life I want? 

It's easy to stay in the status quo--to keep doing what I am doing now because it is comfortable. But it's when we step out of the boat onto the waves of the unknown that we find our Father reaching out His hand. Am I willing to get out of the boat?

5. Seek His Peace

Even in a state of discontent, I can be at peace--and this is a lesson I am learning today. Peace is not necessarily an absence of discontentment--at least not if it is a holy discontentment to move you into God's purpose for your life. Peace is an overwhelming sense that God is with me and in control. He promises us His perfect peace when our hearts and minds are focused on Him (Isaiah 26:3) and when we think on things that are lovely and noble and true and right (Philippians 4:7).

6. Wrestle with God

Have you thought about God's wrestling match with Jacob? Years ago, I stumbled across the most amazing truth as I read about Jacob's wrestling match with God. If you haven't read it, you can read it here. If you read scripture carefully, you see that before Jacob wrestled with God, he always referred to Yahweh as, "The God of Abraham and Isaac," his ancestors. Never once did he refer to Yahweh as his own. But, after he wrestled with God, you can see this dramatic shift in his mentality. Suddenly, Yahweh is his God. It was in the wrestling match that Jacob came face-to-face with the God of his fathers and established a personal relationship with Yahweh.

Wrestling with God changed Jacob forever!

I think many of us fear wrestling with the tough issues of faith, of admitting to God that we don't trust Him or we have doubts about our faith. I know I've been there. If you are in that situation, I encourage you to wrestle with God. Wrestle with Him about your fears, your faith, your circumstances. Wrestle with Him about His character, His plan. Wrestle with Him about your discontentment in this life. He won't be offended. Instead, He will embrace you until you walk away forever changed.

Maybe we should all take some wrestling lessons.

I don't know where you are, but I am in the midst of some serious holy discontentment. Maybe, just maybe, we can all take these six steps and come out on the other side--forever changed by our good, good Father. Will you join me on the journey?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ Erica Shires 

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