This post is first in a series about Gratitude that will finish with the Thanksgiving holiday.
If only Alex and I lived back in the Midwest, then we would be content—we would regularly see our families, celebrate birthdays in the presence of those we love, and gather for impromptu dinners on a weeknight. If we lived closer to family, our lives would be richer, fuller and more satisfying.
If we lived back in the Midwest, then we could afford to buy a house. If we owned a house, we would be happier: we would grow into a home as our family grew, feel like we’re a part of a close-knit community because we would be able to invite folks over more often, and have space for kiddos to run and play.
The two statements I have just shared are my “if onlys”—desires that I have believed will bring me lasting contentment. There have been days when my heart’s disposition delicately hinged on the fulfillment of these dearly kept hopes.
What is your “if only…?” Perhaps it is a longing, relationship, dream, or circumstance—something in which you place weight and hope for deep satisfaction. At times, we are unaware we have invested so much into these hopes until we observe the fulfillment of said thing in the lives of those around us and become despondent and compare ourselves to others. Other times, I think we willfully indulge in tending to these dreams and desires because of misplaced hope.
Not only do we compete with and measure our lives against our neighbors, colleagues and fellow church members, but social media maintains our connections to high school friends, random people we went to summer camps with, and more. The opportunities to compare ourselves to others are abundant: we see photos on Instagram of idyllic, adventurous lives framed in perfect light and environment, and Facebook allows us to maintain a sense of what’s going on the lives of people we may rarely connect with in our daily lives. All of these have the potential to feed our discouragement and envy for a life or job we wish we could attain. We are dissatisfied with our lives as we know them to be and long for something else.
In addition to discontent, we compare our lives, possessions, and accomplishments to the people around us. Our hearts resent our friends because we see what they have and want it. In some ways, I think we’ve tried to mask the ugliness of envy and covetousness by naming it “comparison,” but regardless of the language we use, Proverbs 14:30 tells us that “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” I have felt the rottenness envy causes in my soul—it is empty, resentful, and distances me, at times, from people I call my friends. Throughout his letters to the early churches, Paul implores believers to put away envy and covetousness. He reminds us that at its core, covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5), the worship of something other than our God.
My desires to own a home and live near family are not inherently bad, yet how I mistakenly believe that enduring happiness and contentment can be found in the fulfillment of those desires is problematic. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:21 speak into this: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When my desires are unfulfilled, my heart grows despondent, clearly displaying what it so deeply treasures.
When we recognize the patterns of discontent and envy in our lives, the barrenness they carry, what do we do? We know that in Christ we have been given regenerate hearts, hearts that are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). So we confess. We confess our sin before our Creator and acknowledge that we are placing the fulfillment of our contentment and satisfaction in something other than Him. We ask for forgiveness and believe in the work of Christ to cleanse our hearts through His blood.
We also remind our souls of these truths: God alone provides us with satisfaction and contentment. His all-surpassing goodness, sovereignty, love, and omnipotence is reason for our hearts to worship and hope in Him. He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and His love—unlike any other we have known—is certain and eternal (Rom. 8:35-39). We are accepted by God and adopted into His family, for eternity (Eph. 1:3-6).
I also believe that we learn to cultivate true gratitude in our hearts for what God has given to us, and I will share my thoughts on this practice in the next installment of this series.