I’d like to clear something up here: contentment is overrated in the church. I remember back in the day reading Christian dating books and feeling this pressure to feel content. If only I could be content with my life, then God would bring me a husband. After all, it’s often after you stop really seeking after something that you get it. Let’s be real: if we’re trying to be content in order to get something that we want, we aren’t really content.
Contentment and Longing
We really need some clarity when it comes to this concept of contentment. God does want us to find contentment in our circumstances, especially with our physical/economic circumstances. Many of the passages about contentment in the Bible are talking about being content with the socio-economic status that we have. Examples of this would be: Matthew 6:25-26 (when Jesus instructs his followers not to worry because God will provide for their needs), Philippians 4:12-13 (where Paul says that he has learned to be content whether he has much or little), Hebrews 13:5 (where the writer says that we should be free from the love of money and learn to be content with what God has provided), and 1 Timothy 6:6-7 (where Paul reminds Timothy that contentment is wise because we can’t take possessions we have with us). I’m all for this kind of contentment. We should recognize that stuff isn’t going to bring us happiness and we should be content with whatever physical and economic means God has provided us at the moment.
However, the Bible also talks a lot about longing, which could be considered the opposite of contentment. Psalm 119:20 says, “My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.” Psalm 119:81 says, “My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word.” 2 Corinthians 5:2 talks about our longing for heaven and God’s restoration of all things. 2 Corinthians 7:11 talks about how a time of godly sorrow has brought about a new sense of longing in the Corinthians, and how that’s a good thing. Hebrews 11:16 notes that all the faithful men and women in the Old Testament were longing for something that they never got to see, God’s city made manifest on earth.
The truth is, as Christians, we are never going to be wholly content in this life. We’re not supposed to be. We were made for and we’re longing for a better world. Really, all of us, Christian or no, are longing for something better. It’s an essential part of being a human meant for eternity living in a fallen world. Therefore we have to be careful that we’re not confusing the things that we should be content about (our economic circumstances for example) with the longings of our heart that God has put there to draw us to himself (like our longing for love and community and justice and healing).
Longing Draws Us to God
I don’t think it’s possible to achieve true contentment about your relationship status without either the finding of a romantic partner or a gift of grace from God. Why? Because that longing is something that God placed there himself. It’s a longing that is supposed to connect us more closely to someone and/or in the process connect us more closely to God. We can’t just flip a switch and say, “I am no longer going to desire someone to share my life with. I’m just going to be content with being alone.” We should try our best to be content in whatever life circumstances we find ourselves (that’s biblical), but we should also recognize that some of the longings we have are not going to go away until God fulfills them himself (either on this side of eternity or the other). We shouldn’t beat ourselves up because we can’t find contentment in a way God never intended us to find it.
We’re always longing towards something more. We long for a better world. We long for more time. We long for more harmonious community. Ultimately, all these things are longings for God. God won’t completely take them away because they draw us to Him. The desire for a spouse, the desire for someone to share life with, is also one of those desires. I always wanted God to take away my intense desire for a husband, but he never did. It didn’t even lessen. If anything, it increased. In some cases, I think this was due to me dwelling on it too much and overemphasizing marriage. For the most part though, I think that longing is supposed to be strong and supposed to be powerful. It’s a tangible way that we can experience how much God longs for us to completely be his.
Whether God fulfills the longing of your heart or no (and sometimes he doesn’t, see Paul’s experience with his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10), He still uses that longing for his glory. It may be that the fulfillment of that longing brings you closer to him. It may be that the unfulfilled longing causes you to rely on him more. It may be that your unfulfilled longing is a witness to the world around you of how God can be your strength and comfort even in the midst of longing, a totally foreign concept to most people. In the words of Paul, whatever our longing, whether fulfilled or no, God says to us, “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”