By Karen O’Connor
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12).
As a girl, I remember my mother touching my hands gently, a reminder to sit still and stop nibbling my fingernails. She also calmed me down when I twirled and cart-wheeled across the living room floor. I was an active, high-strung child, maybe a bit too active for her. As I grew older I settled down and nearly went into hiding. I was afraid to be too noisy, too showy, too much!
By the time I got to high school, I was a shadow of my former self––fearful, anxious, lacking in self-confidence. College life presented new possibilities away from home and the watchful eyes of my parents, and I welcomed each experience. I performed well in my studies, appeared in school plays, and even attracted a boyfriend. But still I felt discontent. Something seemed to be missing.
Two weeks after graduation I married my sweetheart, and within five years I was a mother to three children and the wife of a man who spent most of his hours working or studying toward a degree in law. I felt alone and restless even though my son and two daughters brought me many joyful hours. I continued to live on this plane until the year I turned 41—the year I met Jesus Christ, following a painful divorce and a health crisis.
At that point I opened the Bible for the first time in my life, at the urging of a friend, unaware that it was the beginning of my personal journey toward contentment. My teachers and companions were writers who lived hundreds of years before I was born—but their wisdom in the Scriptures led the way, and it is with me still. I share their words here. Perhaps they will speak to you too, or encourage you to find the wisdom God has for you on your journey.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This verse was the first one to capture my attention as I sat attentively in a Bible study class on the Gospel according to John. I leaned forward, realizing in that moment that the personal relationship people had talked about—a relationship I had no knowledge of or experience with—was now possible for me, if I gave my life to Christ.
Days later, after a run along the beach near my home, I stopped on a bench overlooking the ocean and cried out to God, “Lord, I’m yours. I confess my sins and ask you to lead me from now on.” Relief swept over me, now that I knew I no longer had to carry my burdens alone.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
What good news! Jesus died for my sins—past, present, and future. I am made right in God’s eyes through what Jesus did on the cross. For years I had carried the weight of my sin, confessing, feeling guilty, asking for forgiveness, and then sinning again. I seemed as helpless as Paul claimed to be when he wrote to the Christians in Rome about himself: “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18, 19).
After learning, like Paul, that there is no condemnation because I am saved by grace, I took God at his Word. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 8:25). I am now guilt free, safe in Christ.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
One morning years ago, while trying to understand what this verse really means, I felt God impressing on my heart what I needed to hear. It struck me that a full life is one that has a mix of things—among them joy, sorrow, pain, healing, challenge, and victory.
Today when I read these words, I’m filled with peace—knowing that God has a full life for each of his children, so I shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed with any of it. He will be with me through each experience, teaching me what I need to know and leading me on the right path. I will never be alone––ever.
I now have this verse in a frame on my desk, and I read it several times each day.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”
This verse has seen me through many anxious moments—when my son lived apart from our family for two years, when my second husband lost his job unexpectedly, when my father was diagnosed with a long-term illness, and when a book I’d written was suddenly cancelled before the publication date.
With this verse to guide me, I put my hope in the Lord—not in doctors, publishers, or employers. I could not control illnesses, jobs, the result of my writing, or my son’s choices. But God said he’d be present in all these situations and bring them together for the good of all concerned (Romans 8:28).
“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.”
I found special comfort in these words as I thought about my past—the loss of my first marriage, the shame I experienced when I had to ask for rent money from the deacons’ fund one month when I was out of cash, and the sadness I felt as I watched my father die in front of me. Despite these worries, however, I knew in the deepest part of me that God was there and that my tears would one day turn to joy. And they did, bringing me to a new awareness of contentment that can come only when I walk with God.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you.”
Now that I’m an older woman with gray hair (and plenty of white too) I know with certainty that God is still with me, holding on to me and keeping me close. I am one of his own. He made me, and he will sustain me and even carry me if harm threatens me.
My journey toward contentment is still in progress. It’s a day-to-day walk—sometimes slow, sometimes fast—with plenty of pauses along the way for conversations with God, for praise and prayer, for smiles and tears. And it comes with the knowledge that I am not alone, never have been, and never will be as long as I stay close to God through Jesus Christ.
Today I know that my Redeemer lives, and he lives in me. I am more than content.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer in Watsonville, California.
Write Your Story of Contentment
Many of us long for contentment, but feel like we don’t know how to find it. A careful look at our own lives can yield lessons when we take the time. Here are some questions to get you started:
1. When have you felt contentment (not a general time like “childhood”)?
2. What daily rhythms helped you achieve or maintain that contentment?
3. Was there stress around that time? How did you deal with it?
4. What was your relationship with God like then?
5. Now, when have you felt discontentment?
6. What daily rhythms caused you continual stress?
7. Were there happy events near that time that you weren’t able to enjoy? What got in the way?
8. What was your relationship with God like then?
Pray that God will deepen your understanding of contentment in him, and use what you learned through self-reflection to make a plan for a more content future.