“I’m struggling,” I told her in an email. “There’s this house I’ve been looking at…” I tell her the story. I explain, rationalize and justify my reasons for wanting a different house. “I just feel cramped – like I need more space. And it would be nice for the girls to have their own rooms. But Brian isn’t set on it.” She listened and her email came back with a patient promise of prayer. She didn’t say she would ask God to open the door to the new house, but instead that she would ask Him to bring peace and joy whatever my circumstances.
It’s not abnormal to want something more. I would imagine we all do it in some respect. We get comfortable, too comfortable, with where we are and our eyes wander to other things. “Better” things. It doesn’t take our hearts long to follow our gaze.
I run a great risk in writing this. Now that I am confessing my coveting heart you will watch me more closely. Many who have less or live contentedly with less may look at me and think that I am greedy and selfish and unreasonable. And it’s hard to say this, but they very well may be right.
Over the past year, I have learned many valuable lessons about contentment. One of which is that you cannot be guilted into it, though many people try. They’ll tell you to be happy with what you have – that you have been given so much – that you don’t know how good you have it…etc. I can hear those words and all they do is make me feel more and more guilty...not more content.
Becoming a stay at home mom has changed our income somewhat. Brian and I have always lived very carefully…very frugally. We rarely go out to eat. We rarely go shopping. We do not frequently buy new clothes, books, CDs (ouch), DVDs, etc. Such a lifestyle has brought a certain amount of comfort and financial security to our lives. We don’t live paycheck to paycheck. We carry no debt other than a mortgage (no car loans, school loans or credit card bills). We overpay on our mortgage. If our refrigerator breaks down and we need to buy a new one, we do not panic. In a way it’s pretty comfortable.
But it’s not easy. My grocery budget for the month is comparable to what many people spend per week. I spend a lot of time at garage sales finding clothes for Reagan and Madison. I even buy clothes for Brian and I at garage sales. I research obsessively if we have a big purchase we need to make. We do many things ourselves, if at all possible (we fertilize our own lawn, refinish our own cabinets, and make homemade birthday decorations). We don’t have cable TV or dish. Our computer is a much-appreciated hand-me-down. We don’t have cell phones. I dry our clothes on drying racks to save on electricity. The list of what we do to save money is long. Living frugally is especially challenging when we see someone with something we’d love to have or doing something we would love to be able to do.
Over the last year I’ve worked very hard to foster a heart where contentment and peace can grow. My tricks? Nothing fancy.
- Remember what it took to get to where you are
- Avoid enemies of contentment (HGTV, blogs, window shopping, etc.)
- Don’t shop without a list and stick to the list as much as possible – this means I try not to just wander around the mall…or even Target (again, ouch).
- Treasure what you have and treat it well (something I learned from my Mother-in-law who is REALLY good at this!)
- Cherish people over things
- A home is a place for family – not a showcase – the environment must fit the function
- There will always be someone with better/more/newer things
- Buy quality – everything is an investment of some kind – make investments that are worthwhile
- Do not undervalue used items (to me, hand-me-down clothes have become previously-loved clothes)
- “Worn” does not equal “Junk” (my Bible, for instance, is falling apart. A wise friend told me to NOT buy a new one and I am glad he did).
- Keep less – having too much makes you unable to fully appreciate any of it
- Limit gift-giving to your kids – just be reasonable when it comes to birthdays and Christmas
- Do not judge others by what they have or don’t have
- Encourage each other
- If you can, do it yourself
- Pray over wants and desires – give it time – ask a trusted friend to pray for you when you are really struggling
Those are the rules that help me – they are probably different for each one of us.
I try to ask myself the question, “Would you rather be loved for who you are or what you have?” I also recognize that yes, things will make me happy…but that happiness will not last.
A few weeks ago I found my coveted house had been sold. As I stared at the SALE PENDING label over the listing on my computer screen, I felt a strange sense of peace wash over me. It’s gone. And I’m not all that sad. I don’t want to live for an earthly kingdom and I suddenly feel freer to live for His kingdom. It isn’t just that the temptation is gone – but I am happier in my home than I have ever been. It hit me that contentment is not thinking that you have the very best stuff in the world, its thankfulness for the imperfect blessings and gifts in your life.
Peace and joy whatever the circumstance? That’s worth living for.