This guest post today comes from Liz Carter who, like me, is chronically ill, a writer and married to a church leader. She has excellent things to say on finding contentment whilst being real about the pain of suffering, and I found her book Catching Contentment really helpful. Over to Liz:
The word ‘contentment’ once felt like a faraway concept I couldn’t quite grasp. I’d come to believe that contentment could only be for those who had lives without blemish, health without pain, people who skipped through life with a smile on their face. But I thought it would never apply to me, a person living with chronic illness. Once upon a time, I imagined life with a career and ambition, but all of that seemed to turn to ashes in the reality of my pain.
Yet I’ve written a book about contentment…
The other day I was speaking about my new book on a radio show. As part of the session, listeners were invited to call in and ask questions or comment on what they’d heard. I found great resonance in what people were sharing about their own suffering. And then someone called in with the suggestion that I should ‘look into healing ministries’. My heart skipped a beat, because here I was, on the spot, being challenged about my failure to get healed. I am certain that the caller spoke from kindness and grace, that they longed for me to find that healing – and I know that God heals today.
But God hasn’t healed me of long-term progressive lung disease. God hasn’t healed me of a condition I have suffered with all of my life. And all through those years, I’ve been faced with that question: why haven’t you tried harder? I’ve been told I should ‘claim’ scripture readings, by reading them aloud three times a day. I’ve been told I should go along to this or that healing retreat, or to that church who have an ‘amazing healing ministry.’ I’ve even been told that I must think that God is a liar, because the Bible says that those who ask will be healed – and therefore the fault is mine.
For many years I lived under this great burden; a sense I was getting things wrong and should be ‘trying harder’. I came to an implicit understanding that I couldn’t be content or happy until I strived enough to make this happen. Only when I was finally whole and set free from the pain I lived would I find contentment and peace. I felt more and more broken down, the disappointment mounting as the healing remained elusive.
And all the while, the words kept coming: ‘Press in for healing. Let go of whatever is holding you back. Confess that sin. Get more faith.’ The words pounded at me and compounded my misery, and somewhere inside was a whisper: was I not good enough for God to fix me?
I’d thought of contentment as it is so often framed by the culture around us: something we will achieve one day – when we get that house, that car, that partner, that child, that holiday, that figure. We just have to grit our teeth in the waiting. And church teaching sometimes echoes this, with its assurances that Jesus makes our lives better, that we just have to pray and problems will be solved and bodies will be healed.
This is not enough; it is a narrow Christianity, one that doesn’t allow for the lived reality many of us face.
Yet there is another story; a way of glorious hope. God is here with us in the waiting and the disappointment, not displaced, waiting for us to come to a point in our lives where we can claim to be fixed – and therefore content at last. This is a more powerful narrative, because it comes from the profound depths of God, confirmed in events in history. Remembering Jesus on the cross is the most profound way of finding his gentle touch in our darkness. Jesus knew what it was to struggle for every breath, to know his body utterly broken.
And that’s where our contentment can grow from; the blazing hope that Jesus brings as well as the knowledge that Jesus understands.
Over the years, I came to a different kind of understanding – one that turned my life upside down and hurled me into unexpected places of joy and contentment. I’d read the passage in Philippians 4 where Paul wrote that he had ‘learned the secret to being content in all circumstances’ (v12), and usually skipped over it, thinking it couldn’t really apply to me. But as I read more about Paul I discovered a life lived in distress and suffering: he wrote many letters from prison, he watched as dear friends and colleagues were tortured and killed. He struggled with his ‘thorn’ – something he begged God to take away, but God did not. I began to understand that Paul’s words about contentment in all circumstances were words born out of raw authenticity, words for me and all those like me; words which would take me into the very depths of God.
All through the Bible, we find so many examples of people laying out their deepest pain before God. Their raw words give us permission to share our own hurting, to be starkly honest about the pain we go through, day after day. Keeping it in to wear a ‘shiny Christian’ mask simply pushes the hurting further into our deep places.
We find contentment when we look to Jesus within our pain rather than waiting for the pain to go. Laying out our suffering before God and others – and refusing to let bitterness become our script – allows us to reach further into the depths of God and find unexpected treasure.
If contentment seems elusive to you, remember that God’s love is far bigger, far wider than we can know, and that God’s story of contentment is different to that of the world. It’s a story of utter satisfaction, a story with a glorious finale, a tale of triumph amidst tragedy. God calls to your soul, his alluring voice so much more powerful than all the other voices which would cage you in.
Today, may you know the riches of the depths of who God is.
May you know God’s passionate love in your darkness,
God’s hope amidst your disappointment.
And the better story of a God who gets it.
May you know the dazzling hope of the wounded Jesus,
The inexplicable joy of the vulnerable God,
And the unexpected contentment of putting all else aside
To gaze only on One.
Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise, in equal measure, and lives in Shropshire, UK with her husband, a church leader, and two crazy teens.
Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November 2018. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances.
Over to you:
- How do you find contentment despite difficult circumstances?
Buy Catching Contentment from:
- your local Christian bookshop,
- £9.88 Eden Christian bookshop
- £7.65 – and support your local high street – Hive.co.uk free delivery
- £6.57 Wordery.com (free worldwide delivery)
- £6.58 Amazon.co.uk
- $15.00 Amazon.com
AND if you liked Liz Carter, you’ll also love both books by Tanya Marlow that she referred to in her book:
Those Who Wait – Finding God in disappointment, doubt and delay – Tanya Marlow (cheapest paperbacks are £7.00 from 10ofThose, £7.58 from Amazon.co.uk or £7.65 from the high street),
as well as your
FREE mini-book Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty – Whispers of restoration from the book of Ruth (for free e-copy sign up to the newsletter, see link below) or in paperback for £3.99 from Amazon.
I think this is a powerful witness to the assurance God gives us, that He is enough. So easy to say, so hard to live. Love this “the blazing hope that Jesus brings as well as the knowledge that Jesus understands.” Hope and understanding. What a blessing these are.
I thank God, Liz, that your words affirm and build up and tell me to extend grace to myself, because I am worth being heard and am heard by the One who loves me like no other.
Unlike Liz and others I don’t suffer from chronic illness. I know people who do, but that isn’t the same. However, i have had dark times in my life and in my darkest hour I prayed, not for healing, though I needed it, but the prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden that night – not my will but yours. I left it all in God’s hands. I have used that prayer so many times since, for myself and when praying for others, and have found contentment in that.
An excellent piece. My wife and I had to deal with this issue as people (including us) prayed for our son, Ben, born in 1995. He died aged 18 days old. Understanding that the bad stuff and good stuff cannot be taken as a sign of God’s view of us is what I have learnt. God loves us fully, whatever life brings. This is enough.
This is so good and so true! Thanks for sharing. I am in the middle of another ME relapse and have just been thinking yesterday, that I am actually content and at peace with it. I have all these amazing books I can read – and may have to order liz’s One too! Books that go deep and fill my heart and soul with joy and God’s grace. Among them old novels by George MacDonald, who’se Writing brings me to tears. Also, Joni Eareckson Tada’s book ‘A Place of Healing’ is great in explaining what Liz has written about: not all of us get healed, that too we have to leave in God’s will, Bless you, ladies!
Very well said , with thanks !
Grateful tears. Thank you, Liz and Tanya. This is excellent.