The other night as we prepared the boys for bed, my five year old was found at some point screaming on his bed like a banshee with his hair on fire. Downstairs, I heard the ruckus and assumed based on the volume that he either had his arm amputated in the floor vent or that his clothing caught on fire from an electrical socket and he was now running around in pandemonium.
If you chose D) none of the above, you’d be correct. When I got upstairs to ask what was wrong, he said, “I don’t have enough cars. Martyn has more cars than me.”
Part of our nightly routine is that we divide up the cars between the two boys and send them on their merry (er, sort of) way. There are probably about twenty cars, so naturally I count them with my son to see if he’s right. Through sobs he complains, “I only have a few cars! See, there’s one… two… eleven… twelve. I only have twelve cars.”
What particularly struck me about the incident was that he actually had more cars than his brother. The problem was, he was so fixated on what he didn’t have that he couldn’t see what he did have. That’s what sin does to us—it blinds us to God’s provision and all our blessings and causes us to gripe and complain about the one or two things that he hasn’t given us. Enter discontentment.
The other thing about this situation is that it’s also a magnifying look at my own heart. Maybe my ways of reacting are a little different (sometimes!), but essentially I suffer from the same sin-plagued disease: I focus exclusively on what God hasn’t given in my life to the exclusion of all the blessings and benefits and comforts he actually has provided.
There is a proverb which reads, “The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’ “ (Proverbs 30:14). Sometimes our hearts are like these leeches, they have an unsatisfiable longing for more. If we don’t guard them, our hearts will never be satisfied. There will always be something more.
There’ll always be that car your brother has that you don’t, that perfect situation your friend is in that you’re not, or the position in life that you haven’t been given. It’s called covetousness, which is addressed in the tenth commandment. Obvious when you’re looking at your kid melting down like Tanya Harding. Not so clear when it’s going on inside of you.
Here’s the thing. Contentment isn’t about getting anything or finally arriving. It’s about a gracious disposition of spirit that finds satisfaction in God, in whatever condition, regardless of what you do or do not have. It’s the opposite of our sin tendency to reject what God has given us, and instead to gratefully accept whatever His wisdom has laid in our lap.
“Certainly our contentment does not consist in getting the thing we desire, but in God’s fashioning our spirits to our conditions” (Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, 130).
The reality is that my five-year-old’s sinful response is a mirror of mine. Seeing him helps me see myself more accurately. So I thanked God for the opportunity, and with my son talked about being content in God’s promise to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5) and to satisfy us with himself. So we prayed, first for forgiveness for our ungratefulness in Christ’s provision, then second for the discipline of thankfulness, which combats our bitterness. I needed it as much if not more than he did.
Grace delivered from three feet.