Sometimes I talk with Christian women who are trying to overcome discontentment when I think it is really grief they are dealing with. It could be the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a wayward child who has left home. It’s helpful to identify what’s really going on in your heart, so you don’t beat yourself up over something you really are not doing.
Discontentment is, at the bottom, a surly attitude toward God, blaming Him instead of thanking Him. It is a refusal to submit to His ways, His doings in the world, particularly those things in your life that are difficult. And discontentment won’t receive comfort. When you try to comfort a discontented person, responses are often things like, “But you don’t know what it is like. You don’t understand. Leave me alone.”
Grief is a different thing all together. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Grieving is not a sin, unless it is indulged to the point where it becomes unhealthy. This is when it can morph into discontentment. A godly grief can even receive clumsy comfort from well-meaning friends. But discontentment doesn’t have grace to extend.
Troubles and trials are not to bounce off us as though we were made out of wood. We are human beings, made in the image of God, so we grieve. This is not wrong. It would be a red flag if we didn’t grieve, didn’t register pain, when we meet with a serious loss. We are not stoics, we are Christians.
But if in the midst of a godly grief you are confessing discontentment, you will just prolong the whole process and compound your grief with self-inflicted false guilt.
So how do you tell the difference? In grief you run to the Lord for comfort, protection, and healing, trusting that He is kind and good and will work even this affliction to the benefit your soul and for His glory. A godly grief looks for its duties in the midst of the trouble, pressing on. A discontented grief cannot move on, but stays stricken making grief its final destination.
In discontentment you constantly question, disagree, argue, and complain about what God has done. Instead of looking to God, you may be looking at the lives of others and feeling envious of their lack of trouble, blaming God, or even saying you are “angry with God.”
In all things we are to glorify God, even in difficulties and disappointments. We are to thank Him always and for everything. Gratitude in difficulty is a protection from discontentment. A godly grief is diligent to keep on the right track lest it veer off into hopelessness or despair. We are to look away from the trouble, away from ourselves, and to the Lord.
Years ago my in-laws had a visiting missionary give a talk on rejoicing in the Lord. I’ll never forget the story he shared with us. His wife had given birth to their much anticipated first son, but the little guy died shortly after his birth. And this dear saint told us that he knelt beside his wife’s bed and they rejoiced together in the Lord. The subject of their rejoicing was the Lord, not the difficulty. Were there tears? Of course. But when we rejoice in Him, we can rejoice in any circumstance because He never changes. This is our anchor and hope. This kind of grieving is not inconsistent with contentment.
It’s safe to say that we all will experience grief in our lifetimes. So we ought to be preparing now so that we will be able to walk through it by faith. How do we prepare? By walking by faith through the prosperous times. Trusting God in the little trials prepares us to trust Him in the big ones.