By April Motl, Crosswalk.com Contributor
My computer has been limping along, half broken for a while now. It has an internal electrical problem and shuts off whenever it feels like it. As you can imagine, the unpredictability is just thrilling! So, I have been keeping my eyes out for deals and trying to figure out what computer I should buy once I save up enough.
Someone from our seminary recently bought a computer and was showing off his new laptop, so I thought I'd listen to his advertisement for this fabulous-new-must-have beauty. He talked about the programs, applications and such. Then ended his spiel by saying, "I believe that if I am going to use something everyday, then it just absolutely has to be the very best there is to offer." Hence his sweet car, the trendy clothes, etc.
His words echoed in my mind.
About six months ago, my husband said he thought the Lord was trying to teach him to be content with mediocrity. Mediocrity? Never! We should always be striving for the best, I thought to myself. But in light of a few life lessons of my own, I think I now understand what my husband was saying. Just like my computer friend, it is easy for us to want the best life has to offer. But sometimes, "the best" is learning to be content with what we have.
Wanting is so hard-wired into us as humans that our entire economic system runs on its power. We want stuff, we want fun, relaxation, organization, education, sanity, health, etc- all of which is offered through the almighty dollar. There are no guarantees you can actually buy all those things, but you sure can try.
And then we enter into the list of things that money can't buy. We want affection, significance, a place in the world, a lasting legacy. Marriage takes us to the realm of two people united and faced with this hardwired wanting. If sorting out our own desires as individuals isn't hard enough, combining the wants of two people is sure to be an adventure.
In our marriage, I have learned that even though some of the things I want are good things, accepting and being content with what God has given us can be the best thing. And that choice can make all the difference in our happiness together.
Each couple has their list of wants. My husband and I long for a family, but God has not given us children. I sometimes mope that we don't have more "comfortable" friends -- the kind you can go camping with or call last minute to come over on a Saturday night even though the house is messy. And sometimes I feel discontented when a project I worked hard on does not produce the fruit I expected.
Wanting children, a fruitful life or even more friends are not bad things. But if I let discontentedness grow, then I can have a real problem on my hands. And that problem can creep into the well-being of my marriage.
I have found that in matters of the heart a small thing can grow into a big ugly thing without my even realizing it. Discontentedness seems small but it can get pretty nasty.
Here are some of the rotten fruits of discontentedness:
Blame. We can end up blaming our spouse for our unhappiness. I hear husbands and wives gripe at/about one another because the other won't earn or save enough money to reach a financial goal. The two things couples fight most about are finances and sex. (Check out what James 4:1 has to say about that!)
Infidelity. Infidelity can be physical in nature, but can also be emotional. Infidelity begins with not being content with your spouse. I have watched both men and women involved in emotional affairs who justify it because their spouse didn't give them something they wanted.
Bitterness. When we want something or have an expectation that goes unmet for a long period of time, we often blame our spouse and then get bitter. Sometimes we have genuinely been mistreated; other times we just haven't been treated like the prince or princess we want to be! When a real offense has been received, we need to apply the Biblical instructions for forgiveness.
A Broken Spirit. If your desires in your marriage go unmet for a long time your spirit can be broken (Proverbs 13:12). So you must protect your heart and make sure that what you desire is good and worthy of that place in your heart. Also, be aware that your desires affect your spouse and can break their spirit as well. If you cling to perfectionism your spouse will get disheartened. Most spouses want to please their mate. If your spouse views pleasing you as an impossibility, they might just give up trying. My husband has said that the secret to a happy marriage is learning to be in love with an imperfect person.
As you consider your marriage in its current phase and stage, there will be things that aren't perfect about it. And while we need to continue to always be growing in our areas of weakness, we can also find balance in life through contentment. Practicing contentment can shield our love and our marriage. When life interrupts our expectations, contentment can play a big role in keeping the sanity and love in our marriages.
For example, spouses can protect the safety and fidelity of their intimate life by choosing to be content with their spouse regardless of the airbrushed, plastic surgery world we live in. Instead of comparing your mate to unrealistic media images, God's word tells husbands (but the principle applies to wives as well) to be "exhilarated" by your wife (Proverbs 5:19). Not just ho-hum-just-surviving-our-marriage contented, but exhilarated! It's tempting to think it's our spouse's responsibility to make us feel exhilerated but this is really a choice to be satisfied with the blessing God has given you in your spouse.
Contentedness can also be a remedy for some of the unmet goals in your marriage. Maybe you thought you'd own a home by now, be finished with college or have started a family sooner. Maybe you are disappointed that your husband hasn't become the spiritual leader you thought he was growing toward early in your marriage. Or you are disheartened by your wife's preoccupation with her career over you and your family. These kind of issues can be broached with conversation, should be covered in prayer. In between today and the hoped for change, contentment can be the glue that keeps your love together. Instead of focusing on all the things your spouse isn't, you can find the things that are wonderful about them and learn to be content with them just the way they are. Besides, sometimes people change the most when the pressure of expectation is off them!
Contentment can be a cure for the little things that come between husbands and wives, but it is not a fix-all for major issues of sin. Things like infidelity, addictions and abuse are not things you just sit tight and be content with. Those are problems that require action. Yet, many marriages are broken not by major sin, but by small infractions of disappointment and unmet expectations that eventually pile up into mountains of distance between husband and wife.
For those small, but ever nagging issues in your marriage, choosing an attitude of contentment and mercy might produce more fruit than anything else. James 2:13 tells us that "mercy triumphs over judgment!" And 1 Timothy 6:6 says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." Who knows the "triumph" and "great gain" that await you and your spouse as you pursue contentment in your relationship?
In Philippians, Paul tells us that he "can do all things through Christ who strengthens" him. The verses surrounding that well known passage are about contentment. We quote his words in so many circumstances, yet he was saying that contentment is the key to unlocking the "do all things" strength of Christ.
So next time you groan because he left his socks and shoes in the living room again (usually it's the other way around in our house!) or she forgot to take the dry cleaning, take a moment to set aside those expectations and be content with the good that God has given you in your spouse.
April Motl and her husband, Eric, minister at their church in Southern California where he is a pastor on staff. April is the founder of In His Eyes Ministries; a teaching ministry devoted to helping women see their life from God's perspective. For more information about the ministry visit www.InHisEyesMinistries.com. For some free "love notes from me and Jesus" to get you started on writing your own, email [email protected]. Also, for the ladies out there, check out the new Bible study My Reflection In His Eyes: Seeing Yourself as God Sees You to dig deeper into understanding the Lord's love for you.