“He did not seek to drown grief in oblivion, but to exalt and dignify it through hope. A dry eye goes with a dead soul.” Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
The hope is that in considering contentment and satisfaction we might be able to own our sorrow and longing in order that they might lose some of their venom. The hope is that, in confessing the truth of our need to one another, we can walk in freedom not fearing that the entire world is passing us by or worse, is judging us. This freedom has become important to me because of the many harsh voices and judging stares I receive when I speak of my need. “Surely,” they say, “you need to be content before God will bless you.” I bristle at these words.
No matter what those voices may say, contentment is not the absence or denial of need. No! Contentment is the confidence that all things are being worked together for us who love God (Rom 8:28). Contentment is the confidence, the childlike, zealous, loving confidence that He cares (1Pet. 5:7). A contentment that ignores the hunger, that pretends there is no want, is self-delusion. This requires no faith at all. It requires a waking dream that presents all things as completed and fulfilled. But we are told clearly that there is more to come. Much of what is to come is promised at the end of all things. Here and now our souls know the craving, and one of those cravings is a relationship. I am content, but not satisfied.
I am content in my singleness, because I am certain that God has not abandoned me, has not forgotten me, and that He loves me. But still I am not satisfied. Despite the Love of God and the love of friends, despite the blessings too great to list; there is still an ache and an unfulfilled longing. I am content, but not satisfied.
It seems to me that when some speak of contentment in singleness they often mean satisfied or resigned, in the manner that does not disturb the sensitivities of those who are married. So the well-meaning counselors issue well-meaning statements.
“Your singleness is a blessing.”
What then, is marriage not a blessing?
“You have so many opportunities to serve God in your singleness.”
Are there no opportunities to serve within marriage?
“Marriage is hard.”
And singleness is easy?
“Just be content.”
It is often better that I hold my tongue in listening to those who themselves complain about their spouses, their children, and their responsibilities in life. Yes, let us JUST be content. Let us wake and paint it on before we leave the house so that no one is disturbed to know that the body of Christ actually hurts. Let us take the pill of forgetfulness and shod our feet with pretence. That will make it all better. (It is the cynic in me speaking).
The expectation seems to be that singles simply grin and bear it; that they accept their state and rejoice in it—and we should. We have much for which to be thankful. It seems as though those well-meaning counselors desire that singles refrain from anything that suggests all is not well. But all is not well while Christ tarries. The world is not right and our hunger, our longing, is a part of what will be righted—later. So, I am content to wait on Christ, and will not act in the rashness of my desires, but I am not satisfied.
Living by pretence is by no means proper: contentment does not demand a false smile and deluded conscience. No! What Paul teaches in Philippians is neither that all is well with the world, nor that it is less spiritual to be in need. What Paul teaches is that one can be content even in the midst of need, even in the midst of longing. We can be content even if we are not satisfied. Paul was not writing because he was in need, but he was in need. He was in prison.
To be honest it would be easier to accept the fact that God will never bless me with a wife than to indefinitely nurture hope. Resigning and being satisfied would be easier than harboring hope and taking steps to change things. But, again, as Christians we live with the tension of unfulfilled promises. We are both content with all that is in Christ, and yet there is a disquieted longing for more. We should ever be content, but not satisfied.
We have an assured future, but an uncertain present.
We have joy in God’s promises, but the reality of present pain.
We have peace through the God’s promises, but sorrow is ever present.
We know God will provide, but some of us are literally starving.
We are saved, but must hunger and thirst after righteousness.
We are spiritual wealthy, but are called to be poor in spirit.
We are to rejoice, but those who mourn are promised comfort.
We are blessed by God, but persecuted by people.
We see God dimly, but long for to see His face.
We know the love of God, family, and friends, but long for a mate.
We are both content and not satisfied; and it’s okay. The mother who loses four children in one day remembers her children daily. She may wonder what it would be like if they were there for Christmas or the family reunion. Every marriage and every birth will become a reminder that her sons will never know these pleasures nor experience these milestones. While most singles have not faced a death (though some have), their longing is much the same.
Every marriage and every birth is a reminder that they may never share in those pleasures nor experience these milestones. To rejoice with others is still to know a pang of loss as though something had died. And while marriage may bring new problems and not end the deeper longing, it still feels as though each year the dream dies a slow death. We need not delude ourselves; marriage will not end the loneliness, but marriage is a particular desire without which we are not satisfied.
Not being satisfied keeps my eyes skyward, bends my knees in prayer, and calls me to a deeper trust in the grace of God. I may not be satisfied, but I have no fear of starving. I have no fear of TRULY being alone. Dissatisfaction with my circumstances presses me to hope for more, to try for more. Contentment in our circumstances, and the God who oversees all things, will keep us, the dissatisfied, from despair.
This article was first published Wednesday, August 13, 2008.