Crunch. The sound of my shoes echoed with each step. The trail before me was layered with fallen leaves. It was as though the trees had disrobed and blanketed the forest floor with their golden hued cloaks. Even as I walked, leaves continued to rain down around me.
The mountains are where I feel most alive. I especially love hiking in the fall when the air is crisp and cool. I am always struck by God's handiwork this time of year, where the trees are dressed in shades of red, gold, orange, and brown. Seeing his glory in the creation awakens my dull senses. Even the scientific facts behind the tree's annual disrobing strikes me with wonder. Their autumnal transformation is the revealing of their true colors. No longer producing food, the trees lose their verdant hue, uncovering the deep reds, bright yellows, and rustic orange shades that we all love so much to see.
A Discontented Heart
I always thought I would live in the mountains but instead I live by the sea. The disparity between the longings of my heart, of being where I feel most alive, and the place God has put me these past twenty years is wide. Over the years, my discontentment has grown and spread, breeding bitterness, selfishness, and anger. For my heart, discontentment has been like a slow leak, gradually draining me of joy and peace.
In the face of such discontentment, some would say, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" or "Bloom where you are planted." These proverbial statements are spoken to encourage us to make the best of what we have. It seems like helpful advice, but it doesn't get at the source of true contentment. We can't just resolve to be content or "think happy thoughts" to dispel unhappy ones. Rather our contentment must be built on something more solid, more sure, and more lasting. Because the truth is, we are weak. Our resolve fades. The sin in our hearts leads us astray until we are right back where we started.
The Apostle Paul spoke about contentment in Philippians. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11-13). For Paul, Christ was the source of his contentment. He knew that to live was Christ and to die was gain (Philippians 1:21).
The truths of the gospel, of who he was because of Christ's perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection, were the foundation on which Paul stood. He knew that whether he lived with plenty or didn't know where his next meal came from, he was secure in Christ. Because the Spirit of Christ lived in him, he had all he needed. In every situation, the Spirit strengthened him to face trials and tribulations. His security, joy, purpose, and satisfaction was in Christ, not in his circumstances. This is the secret to contentment--not cold glasses of lemonade or blooming flowers or happy thoughts.
My discontentment comes from the same place as the grumbling desert-wandering Israelites. My heart has turned away from its true love. I've attempted to fulfill my soul-thirst with something other than the pure living water that Christ died to give me. I'm focused on the comforts and cares of this life and not the one to come. I've failed to remember all that God did to deliver me from slavery and instead of living a life of gratitude, my heart only grumbles and complains.
Real and Lasting Contentment
The Spirit is gracious and reminds me of the way to true and lasting contentment. Psalm 37:4 says "Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." When Christ is my delight and my source of joy, it changes the trajectory of my heart. What Christ wants, I want. Instead of looking at what I don't have, my heart rejoices in all that I do have because of and through him. Love and gratitude transforms my desires so that they revolve around Christ and what pleases him. And like, Paul, no matter the circumstances, my well of contentment is deep and overflowing, for it flows freely from its source in Christ himself.
God places us in circumstances and situations that we often don't understand. Sometimes he doesn't give us what we want because he knows what we really need is not a change in situation but more of him. The more we grow to depend and trust in him, the more we find our joy in knowing him, and the more we seek him above all else, the more we will appreciate the manna he provides. Our grumbles fade in his presence. Rather than complain about the challenges of life, we'll look to Christ for contentment, security, and peace. All our desert wanderings will create in us a longing not for the slavery of the past but the glory of forever rest found in the Promised Land to come.
As I consider the beauty of the trees in autumn, how they are at their most beautiful right before they enter a season of dying, my heart longs to bring my Creator glory in how I live--no matter the season. When seasons of winter lie before me, I want to reflect the radiance of Christ. Like the trees in fall, I want to live out my calling in submissive and joyful obedience. I want to find my contentment in being a redeemed daughter of the King, not in my circumstances, dreams, or plans.
Will I ever move to the mountains? I don't know. But I do know that not being where I long to be is a reminder of how this world is not my home. My true, forever home still awaits. And as long as Christ remains the joy and treasure of my heart, I will be content wherever I am because he is with me.