There’s a country song that creatively captures the struggle we often experience. Chris Janson sings, “I know everybody says money can’t buy happiness . . . but it could buy me a boat.”
We hear over and over there are some things money can’t buy, such as happiness. In moments of discontent, though, we like to test that theory.
The apostle Paul speaks of contentment as something not natural, something that must be learned. Facing various circumstances ranging from abundance to need, he found he could be content in either. He learned through experience (Phil 4:11–13).
Excavating Our Discontent
We can also learn contentment another way—by digging into our dissatisfaction. As we excavate the root causes of our discontentment, we’re better equipped to fight it. Recently, as I prayed and processed, I was struck with the realization that my discontent was a combination of my sin and good desires.
Consider my home, for example. In recent months, I’ve been discontent with the view outside our back windows. We live in a transitional urban neighborhood, so our view includes industrial property and piles of trash waiting to be recycled. Instead of this scene, I’ve longed to look out and see beauty—ideally something akin to the English countryside (completely unrealistic in our city). On more than one occasion, I’ve driven around town wishing I lived in a neighborhood just a little more beautiful than ours. I’ve assumed moving across town might make me happy.
Of course, even a beautiful estate in the English countryside wouldn’t satisfy me (at least for long). Deep down what I’m longing for is my heavenly home. And until I live there, no home will fully satisfy. This might sound like a depressing thought—I’m going to live my whole life unsatisfied. But it’s actually freeing. Since no home can live up to what I really want, the home I have will do just fine. I might as well enjoy it for what it is and wait until heaven for the rest.
As I continued to think about digging beneath discontent, I realized so many of the things I’m dissatisfied with spring from good desires. When I’m discontent with my body, it’s not because a different skin type or bone structure would make me happy, but because my body is decaying, and I’m longing for the glorified body I’ll one day have. When I’m discontent with marriage and friendships, it’s not because different people would fill those roles better, but because I long for perfect fellowship with the Lord and other believers. When I’m discontent with what feels like boring, repetitive days, it’s not because I need to travel more or experience great adventure, but because I long for the ultimate experience of being in God’s presence and enjoying him for eternity.
True, our discontent isn’t quite as simple as I’ve described in these examples. Sin mixes in with our good desires. In my discontent with my body, there’s also vanity. In my discontent with relationships, there’s also selfishness. In my discontent with daily life, there’s also ingratitude. Examining our discontentment involves both recognizing right desires and repenting of related sin.
Made for Another World
Discerning the fundamental desires beneath my discontent has taught me a new way to pursue contentment. When I’m dissatisfied, I repent of my sin and ask the Lord to lift my eyes, to redirect and renew my longing for him and for heaven.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis famously wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This fallen world is fundamentally dissatisfying. As Lewis explains, “Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy [our desire], but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” This is where we often go wrong. When earthly pleasures don’t satisfy, we dwell there rather than hope for something better.
Our dissatisfaction has a purpose, then. It points to “the real thing” we desire. We should be discontent (to a certain extent) with earthly pleasures. If they’re satisfying us, then we’re far too easily pleased. The problem of our discontent is when we believe earthly gains solve our inner desires. It leads us to covet what God has given others, and we become ungrateful for his provision in our own lives.
Instead, Lewis says, “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”
By taking time to understand our desires, we find what we really want is something only heaven can offer. Instead of grumbling about what’s lacking, we anticipate the fullness and satisfaction we’ll enjoy there—and we encourage others to do the same.
Our discontent with this present world nurtures our desire for the next. And we can be thankful: though money can’t buy true happiness or heaven, Jesus bought us both.