Gratitude is Easy…Contentment is Hard

Gratitude is Easy...Contentment is HardEvery year between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I feel a little uneasy about the countdown of blessings so many people do. Something seems slightly “off” about it, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on what it is.

It’s like a gallon of milk that hasn’t actually expired. You know it should be good, but there’s enough of a strange scent that you pass it to the nearest person and ask them to confirm that it, indeed, does not smell right. (Why do we always do that?!)

I think I’ve finally put my finger on where the funny smell is coming from. It’s not that there is anything wrong with focusing on giving thanks every November. It’s great to have the reminder to think about the many wonderful things we have in our lives, and the Bible clearly calls us to give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances.

But the smell that’s slightly off for me is that gratitude alone is pretty easy.

It doesn’t require much sacrifice or change of heart to take inventory of our blessings. Gratitude is simply a measure of our perspective on the things we already have, and most of us can easily embrace those things with a seasonal reminder.

Gratitude is not what most of us struggle with most, however. It’s the closely related cousin named contentment that causes far more consternation.

While gratitude is a measure of our perspective on the things we already have, contentment is a measure of our perspective on the things we don’t have. It’s being able to say we want nothing more no matter how much or little we have.

But how is that possible? How can we ever genuinely say that we could want no more if we were to have almost nothing?

Such true contentment is only possible with a full dependence on Jesus. Every earthly thing can be taken from us, but Jesus can never be. We can always trust that He is all we need because His promises are for eternity; our earthly time is but a mist (James 4:14).

It’s amazing that as a society we go from gratitude in November to wanting more, more, more in December. What’s more amazing is that we’ve already been given the most we can have: the birth of Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the November counting of blessings naturally segued into the December counting of all the things we don’t need in light of the birth of Jesus?

I don’t need security. Or more money. Or more excitement. Or more kids. Or a different job. Or different schools for my kids. Or anything else.

I simply need the promise of an eternity with God, which is exactly what Jesus’ birth brought.

When we fully appreciate the promise that Christmas offers, we can say we are thankful for all we have and need nothing more. It is this gratitude with contentment that results in complete and lasting joy.

Each day this month, talk to your kids about something they don’t need in this world in light of the birth of Jesus. On Christmas, joyfully celebrate that we have ALL we will ever need in Him.

Want to give it a try? Leave a comment with something you DON’T need because you have Jesus!

13 thoughts on “Gratitude is Easy…Contentment is Hard”

  1. Thank you! I have often felt the same way, I couldn’t quite place why I didn’t “feel” it when those thankfulness countdowns begin. Now I know. I don’t have much by way of material things, but I have a wonderful husband, happy, healthy kids, a great job, my own health and a modest home. Most importantly, I have a God who loves me so much, He sent his only Son to die for me. I am content. And for that I am truly grateful! Thank you for putting into words what I have felt for quite some time. Enjoy this coming Christmas season!

  2. Well, I am one of those who posts every November about my thankfulness! But as soon as I saw your post, I knew I had to read it. I have no problem being thankful for all that God has blessed me with! There are so many things! In my posts I often say the mundane things that people complain about: the cooling weather, a baby who wakes up all night, etc. But being content! In philippians, Paul said he learned to be content in anything. God has been slowly teaching me this gift and it is only found how you said it… in the whole an complete knowledge of the glory of what Jesus did for us. It is nothing that can come from us. It is human nature to NOT be content, to always want more and look at how much more others have that we don’t have. But it is godly to really be complete and centered on God and your relationship with Him no matter what like is like around you. Thank you for writing this post!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Lori! You are very right, that it is our nature to not be content. Something I noticed when writing this post is that one of the 10 commandments is about contentment – do not covet. It is that important! Thank you for sharing your experiences. I appreciate your comment!

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  4. Natasha, this is so true. I think contentment is huge. My parents spend money all the time, I mean every weekend they shop. It’s a recreational activity. Are they content – nope, not at all. In fact they spend a great deal of time wondering how they can be truly happy.
    I hadn’t ever thought about gratitude going further from what comes from our lips and more about what is in our hearts. So often this is what Jesus challenged us with didn’t He?
    Thanks as always, for the food for thought.
    Mel from Essential Thing Devotions

    1. Hi Mel, Thanks so much for your comment. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of “feeding the contentment beast.” We think the more effort we put into finding contentment, the more likely we’ll be to achieve it. Of course, that will never work since we already have all we need. It really is ironic. Thanks again for your note.

  5. I have been dealing with the whole contentment issue – particularly when it comes to loneliness. And it was only just recently that I was able to make peace with being lonely, with feeling like I don’t really matter to others. (I’m not being melodramatic saying this. I really mean it.) And it has had such an impact on my days. Instead of striving for more, more, more when it comes to “needing other people,” I have learned to let God meet me in those lonely places. To find His friendship there. In the quiet of my own backyard, in the birds that come to the feeders, in the beautiful beans that I dry from my own garden. And while it is bittersweet, it has made me much more peaceful and content to find the blessings in the “don’t haves” than it does to keep striving for the things I don’t have. As I have come to see it “Discontentment is feeling like God owes us something that He isn’t giving us, when in reality we owe God everything we already have.” And the way to be content is to remember that everything comes from His hand and that He allows to happen whatever He knows is best. It’s up to us, though, if we will accept it and learn from it and find His goodness in it, or if we will get bitter. Contentment is definitely the greater indicator (over gratitude) of if we have humbled ourselves before God and learned to accept His “Godhood” in our lives, and to praise Him regardless of if life is just as we want it to be or not.

    1. Heather, I’m sorry that you are struggling with loneliness, but I also just love what you said; the depth of your insight here is beautiful. I can tell this is a topic that you’ve given much thought to. Thank you so much for sharing your eloquent words here.

  6. that last sentence is so important “…. don’t need in this world in light of the birth of Jesus” Also non-believers can be content e.g. by scaling down their wish list in order to save ‘mother earth’ or to show solidarity with poor people. They are content, but w/o recognising Jesus as Lord and provider in all circumstance. In a sense is gratefulness/thankfulness more concrete than contentment, because Someone is thanked. Contentment could exist without thanking anyone.

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