Contentment: Misdefine the problem, and we’ll misdefine the cure

Today's guest Blogger is Stephanie Van Gorden. I met Stephanie when she asked me to speak at her women's retreat a few years ago.  She has been a child of God for 29 years, a wife for 11 years, and a mom for 2 years to two children she and her husband are hoping to adopt from the foster system. I know you will be richly blessed by her addition to the blog. You can read more about her below. 

The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory;
no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Psalm 84:11

This has been my mainstay, my comfort, my go-to when I question why life has turned out the way it has.

My husband and I can't have biological children—we've known that for years. We didn't know why, or what, if anything, could be done about it. Turns out that the direct cause is complicated by an underlying chronic disease that is complicated by yet another chronic condition. This we learned over 18 months as eight different doctors diagnosed five distinct causes for fatigue, pain, weight gain, mental fog, and infertility.

All of these have the potential to derail my contentment: the fatigue and pain have drastically changed my schedule. The weight gain...well, ladies, do I really need to explain that one? The mental fog has been one of the biggest problem—one of my greatest loves in life is the written word. I love to read, to write, to digest, to discuss. But when the fog is at its worst, I can't concentrate, my eyes go blurry, my vocabulary regresses to about first grade, and I can read an entire page and not be able to tell you a single thing I read.

But the battle for contentment in those things seems easy when compared to infertility. Although God has now graciously given us two wonderful children through fostering (we’re still in process to adopt them), we felt our childlessness keenly; our home was too large for us, and the silence could be deafening. We serve in a ministry to hurting and broken people, but we were rarely "allowed" to offer help to parents because we weren’t parents ourselves. We have endured endless questions by well-meaning people who think they have a right to understand my reproductive system. We grieved privately and without help or support partly because the world complains about its children, denies our grief, and tries to tell us that we're better off; and partly because people just forget.

{Just as a side note, let me let you in on an adoptive mom’s secret: for some women, the drive to give birth to a child is so strong that even with the joy and fulfillment that comes through adoption, our arms still ache. It can still be difficult to hear of a friend’s pregnancy. Baby showers can still be hard. So even though we have children now, this particular lesson in this particular arena still applies to my heart. I love my children. I praise God for them. But there is still a part that grieves the inability to conceive, and so I still need to preach this truth to my heart regularly.}

As we see children "raised" by parents who see them as a burden—at best, leaving them to fend for themselves unprotected, or, worse, neglecting them entirely—we asked God over and over again why He would allow this. We wondered why a good God would do this. Why...

§  ...would medical technology not work for us that has worked for so many others?
§  ...would our infertility be complicated by other diseases that make resolving it virtually impossible?
§  ...are some given children only to damage them, when we, who serve Him, endured empty arms?

These questions kept me up at night, kept me down during the day, plagued my mind, exhausted me. More so because I absolutely and without question believe that God is good, wise, loving, sovereign, and righteous. He doesn't ever make a mistake. He doesn't ever need to apologize. He doesn't allow suffering "beyond what we can bear" (1 Corinthians 10:13). As I have tried to wrap my mind around the juxtaposition of a good God allowing so much pain, as I have battled for contentment in the face of these questions, I've come to some conclusions about why contentment is so hard to find.

I think it's because we misdefine the problem, and so we misdefine the cure. Most of us would say that contentment is being satisfied with what we have, but I'm not sure that's entirely correct. It's part of it, but not the whole of it.

We all know Hebrews 13:5, right? Some of you immediately went to, "He has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" And some thought, "Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have." When we try to define contentment, we go right to the put off/put on—putting off the love of money or material possessions, we put on just "being okay" with where we are and what we have now. For instance, I want a new cabinet for our TV, but what we have works, so I'll be content. I'd love to be pain-free, but that's not likely to happen. I can complain, or I can choose to be grateful that it's not worse. These aren't wrong attitudes, but I don't think they go far enough. These focus horizontally, on myself, comparing what I have with what I could have. But if I base contentment on the fact that it could be worse, what happens to my mental and spiritual stability if it does get worse?

We need to put the two halves of the verse together: "...Be content with what you have, for He has said, 'I will never leave you...'" What you have isn't about material things, or current status in life. It's talking about the God of the universe. Contentment isn't a question of attitude so much as perspective. My husband calls it wearing the binoculars of Heaven (Colossians 3:1-4). Contentment comes not from being okay with life as-is, but from understanding that a perfectly wise, faithfully loving, unfailingly good God has a purpose in what He allows, and whatever that purpose is, no matter how painful it is to accomplish, He is right there with us, every step of the way.

I have to ease into my day, but I have the presence of God (Psalm 90:14; Psalm 121). I have to plan even a shower based on if I'll have time to rest afterwards, but the God of the universe knows my name and how many hairs are on my head—both before and after I wash my hair (Matthew 10:29-30)! I can't do normal household tasks without paying a steep price anymore, but my heavenly Father paid a steep price through the gift of His Son to cleanse my heart and make me whole (Psalm 51:7-12; Ephesians 2:8-9). I once had a big empty house and no little voices to break the silence or little feet to pound up and down the stairs, but the Lord of all has ordained even this quiet day for my good and His glory (Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 2:10).

This God is a sun and shield. This God gives grace and glory. His ways may be inexplicable to my human mind, but my God doesn't withhold any good thing if I am walking uprightly. If I am without, the lack is somehow better for me in God's economy than gaining my desire. And there, I am content.

About Stephanie: I used to be a counselor and Bible teacher, and I used to write a blog. These days, I counsel little hearts, teach my babies to love and memorize the Word of God, and my writing consists of modeling the ABC's for a preschooler who's dying to write. Lots of things have grown my faith over the years, but not much has shaken it like infertility, other chronic health issues, and motherhood, and I'm thankful that God has proven Himself faithful and merciful over and over again. I do all this from a tiny corner in Colorado where my family serves with Village Missions, a missions organization whose purpose is to strengthen and establish healthy Biblical churches in North America, primarily in rural areas.