By Sarah Morrison
We are fickle creatures, aren’t we? We’re tossed about by our emotions; it isn’t difficult for the Devil or our flesh to woo us towards discontentment. Our house may not be ideal, or we find our limitations frustrating. Rather than seeing lack and challenge as blessings, we find them to be enemies. Rather than seeking good, we sulk in distress. I know I can’t be the only one.
Contentment, or lack thereof, can control our lives if we let it. We can base entire decisions on whether or not we’re happy, on whether or not we’re comfortable, on whether or not we feel good. I’m not saying this is exclusively bad, but I do know what Scripture says about our hearts: they’re deceptive and indiscernible (Jeremiah 17:10-11). With contentment fettered to our hearts, we’re bound for missteps. When we only choose contentment when our hearts are at ease, we set ourselves up for grief, failure, and stagnancy.
I’ve been caught there. I’ve sunk deeply into the ground when my heart is grieved and frustrated and challenged. I’ve dug my heels into the earth, refusing to see the lack and difficulty for what it is intended to be: a blessing. Our growth doesn’t primarily come through contentment. Our maturity is forged through fire. In the places and spaces that press in on us, that reap discomfort—perhaps those are the places that will find nourishment and growth, if only we would look.
I’ve just finished reading a beautiful book by Christie Purifoy entitled, Placemaking: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace. In it she tells tales of her placemaking, the stories of her digging her roots in deeply through frost, through plenty, through fire, and through flood. She recounts the importance of places—how homes, cities, and people form us. She writes about how she’s been formed by the places in which she has dwelled, and how she had helped form those places back. Her stories aren’t centered on perfection, but they are centered on growth. They’re centered on God’s sovereign, ever-moving hand ushering in and out each place she made.
I don’t think it is a stretch to say that we have all been formed by the places and spaces we’ve inhabited. In apartments, in church families, in cities, and in countries—we’re all bits and pieces of the epochs of life before us. In her books, Purifoy says, “Scarcity and abundance are everywhere and all around us, and both have been a gift.” Are we looking at the scarce, deserted places has a blessing? Do we exclusively see the fruitful fields as God’s gift?
Purifoy’s book isn’t specifically (or at least singularly) on the topic of contentment, but I feel the need to dwell on the idea of digging our feet into the ground, loving the spot in which we’ve been planted, and growing in the ways in which our environments demand. Throughout her book, she uses trees to illustrate the places she’s made and the lessons she has learned. She tells stories of the importance of forests, the beauty and miracle of blooms, and native trees of the cities she’s called home. Trees, as Purifoy reveals, teach us more than what we bargain for.
The rustle of a tree’s leaves and the whistles of wind between their crooked boughs and limbs sing a song of praise to their Creator. Their roots grow and establish themselves despite storms that seek to move them and blithe that seeks to destroy them. They act on account of the seasons, blooming, resting, and eating the feast of summer sunlight. Trees are content where they are, worshipping God in the way they were made.
So perhaps we can learn a lesson from these trees, a lesson on contentment. What would our lives look like, what types of joyous places might we make if we fled from discontent and dug our root in deep? What if our roots raced toward the core of the earth rather than stopping when they hit slate and rock in the soil? What if we bloomed in Springtime, feasted in Summer, shed in Autumn, and rested in Winter? What would it look like, and how would it impact our communities, churches, and relationship with God if we stood firm and tall in the circumstances God has given us to? What would it look like to take the Pauline approach of learning contentment in all things?
For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.Philippians 4:11-12
To use Purifoy’s theory, placemaking is sinking deeply and lovingly into the spaces we dwell. It’s understanding that the Gospel can and should dwell with us wherever we are. It’s digging roots deeper in the frostbitten ground and its blooming when the Springtime comes. As she says, “Quite often, the right place is, or a season at least, the place where everything is harder, the place where we feel least at home.” Just because we may be discontent does not mean we should not be leaning into our places. Just because there is difficulty or challenge or frustration does not mean that our places, wherever they may be, ought to be forsaken.
Discontentment, if we let it, tells us the lie that our feelings are prime, that they are paramount, and that we should abandon whatever makes life difficult. This is not always the case, though. Like Paul, we have to learn the precept of digging the roots in the ground God has planted us in. We have to learn contentment. We must pursue it, despite the difficulty that may arise. In all things, may we be firmly planted, immovable until the Lord so chooses.