The Shame of Discontent  - By Erin Quillen

The Shame of Discontent - By Erin Quillen

I don’t remember the moments that first contributed to this overwhelming discontent, but I can picture where I was when it started to lift. Sitting across from a friend in a familiar coffee shop, I was the most discontent I can ever remember being. On the outside, things seemed relatively fine. I lived in a town I loved, belonged to a church I loved, had a good job and good friends and was about to finish my master’s degree. So, why was I so miserable? What was wrong with me? I’d developed this building sense of restlessness. I wanted a new job, a new life, a new set of circumstances entirely. Or, in the words of an angsty O.A.R. song from high school, “another time, another town, another everything.” 


I couldn't tell you what my friend said word for word, but I left convicted by the reminder that settledness anywhere but in Christ is a lie and encouraged by the reality that I already had everything I needed, both for joy and for good work. That coffee shop scene was the beginning of what I referred to as a conspiracy to bring me back to joy. I didn’t get a new life, a new job, or a new everything (which I’m so grateful for now). Very little about my external circumstances changed. But through what felt like a million tiny details, God gently called me out from this pit of discontentment and into a deeper sense of settledness.


In addition to the words of my friend, one of the sources God used to call me back to joy was the Psalms, which confronted four specific lies that discontentment had sold me about God’s providence, provision, peace, and propitiation. I clung to lines from these four Psalms as I emerged from that dark time, and if you’re in a similar season, I’d encourage you to do the same. Rewrite them in your journal. Stick them on post-it notes around your house. Commit them to memory so that in moments where discontent comes creeping in, you can remind yourself of what is true. 


“I can’t be content until I’m somewhere else.” | God’s Providence

The first lie that discontentment whispered was that to be content, I needed to be somewhere else. I was telling myself that if I was there, then I’d be happy. This idea that contentment will be found on the other side of the fence is really two lies wrapped up together— First, that I don’t have what I need to be full of joy here, and second, that I wouldn't face the temptation of discontent there. Both are not true. In Psalm 16, David confronts this lie declaring that “the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (16:6). What is this inheritance David talks about? “Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing” (Ps. 16:5). Psalm 16 reminds us that it’s because God is our inheritance and cup of blessing, our refuge, our master, our guide and giver of every good thing that we can be content with where the lines have fallen for us. Even if we’d rather be there, we can rest in knowing that God in His Providence has set us here for both our good and His glory. 

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance (Psalm 16:6).


“I can’t be content until I have that thing.” | God’s Provision 

Too often, we tell ourselves that we’ll be satisfied once we have that job or promotion, that house, that relationship, or that amount of money. We’re confident that settledness will be found in the next thing, which leaves us incredibly unsettled without it. But, Psalm 34 tells us “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). David reminds us to look at God’s past faithfulness– God heard his prayers and answered him (34:4), freed him from his fears (34:4), and saved him from his troubles (34:6). In Christ, God has given us the ultimate answer to our prayers, freedom from fear, and deliverance from trouble. While it’s so easy to look around and see what we lack or wish we had, we can turn to Jesus, given for us, and see God’s provision as reason for contentment here and now. 

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Psalm 34:10).


“I can’t be content until life calms down.” | God’s Peace 

The third lie that I told myself was that I couldn’t be content until my life calmed down. I found myself waiting for the end of the workday, for Friday, for once I’m done with school hoping that each would bring a sense of calm. Subtly, this meant that I didn’t believe I could experience rest within the work day, the week, the semester, or the season in front of me. While I would encourage you to examine your life for over-commitment and overwhelm, a perfectly calm set of circumstances isn’t required to experience God’s peace. Psalm 116 says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7). We experience rest not because our situation is perfect, our to-do list is complete or our commitments have ended, but because the Lord has dealt bountifully with us, delivering our souls from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from stumbling. Contentedness lies not in a perfectly balanced schedule but in God’s merciful deliverance, both from death and from striving to do it all. His peace is available to you here and now.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you (Psalm 116:7). 


“I can’t be content until I get it together.” | God’s Propitiation

The final lie I believed about contentment was that it was all up to me. If I could somehow get it together, I’d be content. Maybe if I was more organized, exercised more, wrote more, or had a perfect morning routine. I was looking to productivity and perfection to do what only God can. It’s why as David begs for God’s compassion and mercy in Psalm 51, he makes this request of God— “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:12). True contentment lies not in the perfect planner, but in the propitiation offered to us in Christ. “The word propitiation simply put means ‘satisfaction.’ It means that Christ, in His perfect life and atoning, substitutionary death, that He satisfied the wrath of God against our sin and against us” (Bingham). Even when your morning routine is off, you fall short, or your day doesn’t go according to plan, your salvation through Christ’s atoning work is cause for great joy, and for contentment here and now.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit (Psalm 51:12).


When I’m comparing my life to the highlight reels of Instagram, relying on my own strength and understanding, or looking to schedules and stuff and a sense of accomplishment to satisfy me, it’s easy to believe that I need a different place, a different gift, a different set of circumstances, or a different life altogether in order to be content. While discontentment tempts me to call into question God’s providence, His provision, His peace, and His propitiation for our sin, the truth is this— the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (Ps. 16:6), I lack no good thing (Ps. 34:10), the Lord has dealt bountifully with me (Ps. 116:7), and my salvation is cause for joy (Ps. 51:12). When the lies of discontentment begin to creep in, seek the Lord, trust Him to uphold you, return to your rest, and remember the beautiful inheritance that is yours in Christ. He who “did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Ro. 8:32) has given us everything we need, both for joy and good works, through Christ Jesus— our only hope for lasting contentment and life abundant.

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