“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. 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 NIV
“I know how to get along and live humbly (in difficult times) and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret (of facing life) whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.” Philippians 4:12 AMP
“I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. ” Philippians 4:12 MSG
It began as a conversation between 4 friends over zoom. We were sharing bible verses that offered encouragement. Sitting in the midst of so much global strife felt overwhelming and we were looking for answers to the growing anxiety among us. One friend pointed to Paul and his words to the Philippians about “learning to be content.” He was able to look at all circumstances good or bad and sit in contentment. What a super power. The more we talked about it – the more I too wanted it – the ability to be content in any situation. Like Superman’s Cape, or Wonder Woman’s invisible jet – I wanted the tool to help answer all the questions created from the things in my life that left me feeling simply out of control.
Later that night I hung up the phone with my sister and the weight of the conversation settled on my shoulders. Along with sharing the same parents, same upbringing, we also share some unique parenting experiences that involve childhood trauma, healing and life on the other side. I am so grateful I have someone in my life that completely understands one the hardest seasons of my life. I love and respect her opinion and her always listening ear. We don’t always, if ever, come up with solutions to the challenges we discuss but it brings me peace knowing I always have a safe place to process life. As I pondered the conversation with my sister and the sharing with my friends earlier in the day I began putting together an idea that has since been my version of a super power – the key to contentment.
Over the last month I have had the opportunity to teach this idea to hundreds of women both virtually and in person and now I want to pass it on to you. SO, Plot twist…. you are now moving from a sit and passively take in content by reading this blog to a, hopefully willing and active participant in an exercise that I believe could change your life.
Take out a piece of paper.
Drawn a line down the middle – creating two columns.
Label one side “Content”
Label the other side “Discontent”
(No it doesn’t matter which side you put these on.)
Start with the Content side and DUMP. Everything in your life that leaves you with a feeling of peace and contentment.
Here are some of mine today…
Knowing I put clean sheets on my bed this morning and will crawl into them later tonight. ahh.
Sunshine and 60 degree day.
The coffee shop where I’m currently sitting that makes the best, strongest coffee on the planet and is located 8 miles from my home.
Now move to the Discontent side and DUMP everything that triggers feelings of stress, anxiety, fear… discontentment. all of it. All. of. it.
Personal, Work, relationships, health issues, global crises, parents, kids……. Dump it.
Now take the discontent list and draw a line through everything of which you have zero possibility of controlling the outcome. Go ahead – use a thick black line and block them out. Don’t worry – we will come back to it. It needs to blacked out – totally.
What is left are 2 lists –
1 – A gratitude List – things that are currently bringing you joy and peace and blessing. So many things on this list are 100% gifts from God that you did not seek or ask for. Many are things you have worked for and that effort has had a direct impact on the results. It is so good to spend time recognizing the blessings that abound in our lives ever single day.
2 – A “What I can control but may possibly be pretending that I can’t” discontent list. A list that we may rehash with friends, post about on face book, but wont take responsibility for working on.
Let me give you an example.
For the last few weeks I have enjoyed the beginnings of pre menopause life – HOT FLASHES. They are indeed a thing and they have impacted my sleep which impacts my productivity, my attitude and my general view of life. I’ve discussed (complained about it) with a few friends in my demographic, my entire bible study group of 100+ women, my physical therapist, my sister and my husband. Each gave encouragement, suggestions, and knowing sighs but ultimately none of them can take this item off my “discontent” list. It’s up to me to call a doctor, make a much over due appointment and begin looking for solutions. Which I did.
I dread my yearly trip to the girl doctor. Despite birthing three children and making countless visits with some fantastic doctors in three different states over the years… it is still a date I wish I could skip. And I did – for the last 4 years. The year before Covid I received a letter that my doctor that I had just found after our move to Missouri, and really liked, was moving out of state. Just like that. Ugh. A few months later our world shut down and it just seemed like everyone stopped doing routine check ups so I jumped right on that very comfortable band wagon. Then the hot flashes started, then they got worse and I realized I was spending A lot of time complaining to anyone who would listen. I also recognized I was using the fact that I lost my doctor as reason for not figuring out the answer to a problem that was figure out able. The phrase I use with business consultants I coach is…
“Defending my limitations.”
I don’t have time to find a new doctor.
I’m sure this will just all go away ( especially if I keep talking to people that cant do a darn thing about it.)
It’s not that bad.
I’ll go over Spring Break.
I’ll go in the Summer.
I’ll ask a few friends for the names of their doctors.
Gas prices are rising and the closest doctor is 30 miles away.
blah, blah, blah.
Defend, defend, defend.
I had and have complete control over many things in my life ….
Sometimes we need to hear it. Many times I need to hear it. And then I need to move into action to do something about it.
So… have you made your lists? What do you see?
Are you amazed at the gifts you’ve been over looking? I am.
Are you convicted by the things that have frustrated you that you can actually control? I am.
Finally – have you released the things you blacked out with a thick dark line, the ones you can’t control? Like really put them in the hands of our God that is quite capable of holding? Have you? I’m trying.
When I think about Paul’s words to the Philippians – I like to believe that he understood the idea of 2 lists. He had solved the mystery of feeling content in any and every situation. He was able to see the good in any situation he was in – the content list. His letter of encouragement to the Philippians was written while he was in prison. He gave instruction to those around him and put effort into things he could control – The discontent list. He lived each day trusting all the big, hard, out of control things into the hand of a God who could hold them – the blacked out list.
The Secret….. and now you know it too.
Finally, I have found it so helpful to remember a couple of things about these lists….
- Everybody has them. Every. Body. Every body. It may appear that others lives are one big list of blessing but don’t be fooled. Behind every filter covered social media post touting the perfect husband, job, home, children is a discontent list. Lists that are filled with events they cannot control that would shock you if you knew the truth. Lists of things they wrestle with taking responsibility for. Yep- we all have 2 lists.
- We can’t wait for our entire world to land on the content side of the page to move into the callings we have on our lives. Paul did not let his discontent circumstances stop him from proclaiming the gospel, starting churches and equipping leaders to lead them.
- We have a God that will provide for all we need, every darn thing, so that we can clearly see the blessings in both the content and discontent side of the lists. I have found that He is present on both sides. I have realized that He works in both to teach me to trust his ability to use all things for His glory and my good.
Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my college kids that are in the process of finalizing summer job and living plans. Some of the challenge is that she is simply waiting on answers to job applications, housing requests etc. These are totally out of her control. The other challenges are in her control, reaching out to other possible opportunities, making firm decisions about what she won’t do. As we wrapped up the conversation – we reflected on her lists. First, the content list. We thanked God for the blessings of several opportunities she has for her summer that will provide income and experience. Second, the discontent list. We recognized that patience was needed as she waited for answers from employers and landlords – things she could not control. Finally, she looked at the items on her list that she could actually put effort into effecting and prioritized her focus for her day. The Superpower, The Secret to being content….
all wrapped up in 2 simple lists.
Pull out your pen and start writing.