Contentment is not about perfection, but about perception. How we view our lives and ourselves, the lens through which we look and perceive the world around us, especially that immediate world of our daily lives, can cause either contentment or discontentment to settle into the heart.
Psalm 34:5 tells us, “Those who look to the Lord are radiant with joy.” (CSB) When we look to Jesus and let His light illuminate our sight, such joy fills our hearts that we radiate with it. We reflect the Light to which we look. It shines on our lives, giving a joyous glow no matter the circumstances.
There is contentment when Jesus is our focus.
Yet there is much that distracts and shifts our focus. Our sight becomes clouded. We view our world through the fog of worry, jealousy, selfishness, fear, bitterness, loneliness, rather than through the Light.
As life moves and twists and turns, as the unplanned, the unwanted, the unbearable hits us with no warning, bringing with it all the stress and overwhelm and pressure, the fog descends with rapidity. And as we gasp for air and try to hold it together and still appear unscathed on the outside, on the inside we are wishing our life was different.
In these moments of descending fogs and mounting pressures, I find myself thinking, “If only…”
If only I was skinnier, I would feel beautiful.
If only I had more friends, I would feel I belong.
If only I wasn’t so quiet, I would be more liked.
If only I was more capable, I wouldn’t be afraid of failing.
If only I had a boyfriend, I would feel loved.
If only I hadn’t said that… If only I hadn’t done that… I wouldn’t be in this situation.
If only I wasn’t so insecure, I would chase my dreams.
If only I was more spiritual, I would hear from God.
If only I had more money, I would be more comfortable.
If only. If only. If only.
These “if only” thoughts cause us to only see lack and less-than and lose. These “if only” thoughts cause us to only see cracks and breaks and splits. And joy seeps and drains and leaks from the heart, leaving room for discontent to ooze in.
As these “if only” thoughts tumble through the mind, the heart is left empty and hollow.
This empty hollow distracts, lies, nags, worries, scratches, screams, overwhelms, chips, pulls… and we keep thinking, “If only… then the empty would be filled.” But the “if only” only empties all the more.
Thinking, “If only…” takes our eyes off of the blessings in our life and focuses them on what we don’t have, leaving us dissatisfied.
Like a stomach that is empty and hungry for food, the empty hollow in our hearts growls with hunger pains, begging to be filled and satisfied. Longing for the abundant life Jesus speaks of in John 10:10.
But if we’re only focused on what we don’t have, on what is missing and lacking and absent from our lives, we are empty of life.
In the midst of all the “if only” thoughts, God whispers, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3, NIV)
How can I have emptiness when I have the love of God? Love that is so full, so limitless, so unchanging. Time cannot contain it. The finite cannot bound it. It is forever, and it is forever given to me.
Yes, how can we be empty when we have God’s love? How dare those thoughts say “If only…” and tell us we are empty because we do not have, we should not have, we are not, we cannot?
Because there is love given each day, even when the day is hard, even when the day is messy, even when the day is a struggle. And in the hard, messy struggle, we must look for evidence of love. The abundant. The abounding. The love that gives life.
How do we keep the “if only” thoughts from filling us with emptiness? How do we stop seeing only lack and start seeing the love God gives?
Identify “if only” thoughts
What “If only” thoughts do you find crowding your mind? Becoming mindful of what we think helps us control what we think. Once you realize the “if only’s”, make an effort to stop thinking them. Take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.
Identify the longings
At the root of an “if only” thought is a longing for something. Belonging. Worth. Love. Comfort. Security. Hope. Peace. Joy. We think, “If only this, then I would have or be this.” What are the deep longings that are causing you to think, “If only?”
Look to God’s Word
Spend time with God through His Word and learn how He fulfills the longings. How He meets every need. How He satisfies the thirst. How He gives blessing upon blessing. Replace those “if only” thoughts with His promises and truth.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on God because He cares for you.” The areas of your life that are hard, that you wish were different, that have you thinking, “If only…”, pray about them. Surrender them to God and let Him work in them, and in you. Don’t simply pray God would change the situation, also pray He would grow in you Christ-like character as you go through this season.
Give thanks to God all He has given you. Look for beauty and grace in even the hard and messy. When your mind begins thinking, “If only…”, express gratitude to God for who He is and what He has done for you.
Look for opportunities to share love and hope with others. Be a helping hand. Be a listening ear. Be a shoulder to cry on. Don’t let someone else’s “if only” thoughts leave them feeling empty. Pour into their lives instead. It’s amazing how much we realize we really do have when we choose to give away.
Focusing our on the empty will cause our hearts and lives to feel empty. But God’s love fills all emptiness, and when we look to Him, the “If only” disappears as the light of the One and Only shines.