When Contentment Is Hard

Tiya Thomas-Alexander   |   February 20, 2024 

It’s become a bad habit that I’m struggling to kill. Discontentment, that is. Always chasing a life that was or that could be, I do not fully take ownership of the days that I live. Instead, I overlook the life I have been given and the Life-giver.

Sometimes, I defend this way of living to myself as a sort of growth mentality. I write it off as a keenness to be better and make things better. But by not cultivating my own patch and always eyeing another, the only thing that grows is dissatisfaction with what is mine.

In Psalm 131, we are met with a short and sweet picture of contentment. It catches me in my state of frenzy.             

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up:
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore. 

The Psalmist, who here is David,  is evaluating where his heart is truly at home and where the eyes are fixed. This is not meant to put off improvement, ambition, or challenging things that are wrong. This is not a spirit of complacency, but one of humility.

Simply repeating these first verses is difficult if, like me, we think too much of ourselves. It makes clear: In my dissatisfaction, I have let humility escape me. To know the contentment that is in Christ, it seems essential to first admit to our own smallness.

In the ways of God, learning our smallness is actually the path to growing up.

Until weaned, a baby squirms–even wails–to be fed. And a weaned child is perhaps only reluctantly learning to stay still in the presence of their mother. David is inviting Israel into a journey of spiritual maturity by likening his soul to a weaned child. By using the present perfect tense in the second verse, he is implying that it is not easy to quieten our souls, but something he did and is continuing to do. I have calmed and quieted my soul, he prays, rather than I calmed and quieted my soul.

The strange thing is that being content in our lives has nothing to do with how our lives actually are—but in what stills our soul’s squirminess. I’ve tried to soothe myself with patterns of comparison. I’ve also given in to the urge to grumble in an attempt to let it all out. And at other times, tried to feel better through doses of pride. All of this, my soul actually needs weaning from.

In the third verse, David encourages his people to hope in God for the present day but also for every day of eternity. Like a habit to nurture instead of to kill.


Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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Tiya Thomas-Alexander

Tiya is an Indian journalist and writer based in London.

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One comment on “When Contentment Is Hard”

  1. Don't we all go through these phases ! Grateful that you brought it out. Your words echo the state of my heart too

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