Editors’ note: 

TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question on how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected].

Should I stay or should I go? How can I discern if I’ve picked a career that doesn’t suit me, or if I’m just generally a discontent person who will never be happy?

I’m writing this to myself as well as you. Today, after the fifth dirty diaper, my mind began to drift to my days of full-time work. The grass is always greener, isn’t it?

Discontentment is exhausting and hard to understand. It’s tricky, because it can stem from several different sources and isn’t always a bad thing. The opening scenes of Scripture shed light on questions of contentment and calling that are otherwise enigmatic.

Creational Discontentment

In the beginning, God carefully crafted all of the essential stuff of the Earth, and he called it good. He made us to be like him in the way we care for it, develop it, and enjoy it. He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, smiling as they discovered beautiful aspects of his world and experimented with its potential. Humanity was never meant to be content to leave the world as is, but to cultivate it according to God’s wisdom and rule.

Distorted Discontentment

Then in an instant, Adam and Eve’s rejection of God’s good authority flipped everything on its head. Instead of walking with God, they hid from him. Instead of serving each other, they shifted blame. Thorns and thistles fenced out the harmony they once enjoyed with the creation, making it painful to pursue. Life now comes through agony and ends in death.

This was the beginning of the distorted discontentment that you and I feel. Brokenness is the only reality we know, but it’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

Redemptive Discontentment

Thankfully, God wasn’t content to leave his world to death and decay. The Creator of the universe did the unthinkable to rescue his beloved creation from the grips of sin. He took on flesh and submitted himself to be mocked, tortured, stripped naked, and hung up on a cross.

Redemptive discontentment is the kind that’s awakened by the Spirit of the risen Christ and makes us long for the kingdom to come. Our work is an opportunity to enter into this story as we tie a towel around our waists, kneel down, and begin to wash the feet of the world.

Cultivating Contentment

So how can we discern the root of our discontentment? Is it one of the ways we image God as we cultivate his world? Sinful preoccupation with our own comfort and status? Frustration with brokenness and a desire to reknit the fabric of creation?

Those aren’t easy questions to answer. Here are a few tangible practices to help.

1. Re-narrate your life.

The American story says you should “do what you love,” “pursue your passion,” and “follow your dreams.” If you aren’t happy, you’re probably doing the wrong thing, and you should make a change. Less explicit in this narrative is the source of that happiness—power, money, status, titles, autonomy, progress, or a general sense that our work uniquely fulfills and expresses who we are. This story is all about us.

But the true story is all about God. Reorient yourself to that story. Spend time in Scripture—read it, memorize it, pray it, sing it, talk about it, and respond to it in the small details of your daily life. Our vision for work must be regularly restored to God’s design for it. Paul’s words in Romans remind us to “not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2).

2. Re-imagine how God sees your current work in light of this story.

Use these questions as a guide:

  • How do you reflect aspects of God’s character in what you do? What about your coworkers?
  • How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the hurt and brokenness in our world?
  • How do you get to uniquely love your neighbor and participate in Christ’s renewing work through the products or services you provide?

3. Serve well, rest well.

Seek out ways to serve in your church, community, or current job that can help you connect with how God has distinctly designed you. Think about your service as an overflow of Jesus’s service to you. And intentionally rest. Sometimes we’re discontent at work because we begin to believe it should bring us joy and success and identity. Repent and fight against that idolatry by deliberately stopping for a while to rest in God’s good providence.

4. Seek counsel.

Ask godly people who know and love you to speak into your gifting and search out your fears and motivations. Trying to know ourselves apart from community is like grasping for the wind. It can truly lead us to frustration or deep despair. (Major bonus points for older, wiser counsel if it’s available to you!) If you seem to keep getting the same counsel—either to stay put or move on—consider following that advice, at least for a time.

5. Actively wait.

There’s no harm in keeping an eye on the job market or letting others know you might be interested in changing jobs. Do this calmly, relaxed in the knowledge that God loves you and leads you. If and when the time is right, he’ll open the door for a different position. In the meantime, you can serve him wholeheartedly—with both godly contentment and discontentment—where you are.