God often teaches me lessons through the lesson I’m trying to teach my own children. I have a 4-year-old son who never seems to be satisfied with what he gets. When I pour him a glass of milk, the glass is never filled enough. When he gets a treat, he wanted two. If his brother has a toy, he wanted it for himself.
“Learn to be satisfied with what you have,” I say to him, lovingly. “Otherwise you’re always going to be unhappy.”
When I tell him this, I can recall the voice of my Heavenly Parent telling me the same thing. There used to be a time when I envied things my friends had or positions in which they found themselves at work or in life. I wished for a better house. I lamented other people’s fabulous vacations to exotic lands. I ached to be further along in my writing career. I wanted dishes that matched. I wanted clothes that were new. I wanted…I can’t even remember.
These days, none of that matters to me nearly as much. Where I used to say, “I want it,” my heart tells me now, “I don’t need it.” I have everything I need and want in God. Here are three important lessons we need to learn to let go of unhappiness.
1. True peace comes from Christ.
"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
"I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." —Philippians 4:11-13
When I was little, I remember hearing people say things such as “God provides” and “If you have Jesus, you want for nothing.” As a child, I thought that meant that Jesus would give me everything I wanted. I was right, but in the wrong way. When your desire is Jesus, there’s not much else that you really want. I might not turn down a set of matching dishes, but I don’t need them. I don’t want them—not soul and heart deep. That’s where Jesus Christ lives, and if He doesn’t care if my dishes match, why should I?
That peace in Christ allows me to be happy for other people and content with myself. I’m happy to see the photos from countries to which I might never travel. I see the character and whimsy in my mismatched everything. I feel content in my work and find joy in my life as it is, not as I think it should be.
2. God may not change the situation, but He can change us.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." —Psalm 51:10
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have my moments. We all do. It’s hard to find the joy of being stuck in traffic. I struggle to remain calm sometimes when my kids are fussing and fighting. I complain about being overwhelmed at work just as much as the next person.
It’s easy to say to God, “I don’t want things to be like this. Make this different for me.”
Then we expect Him to pull out His magic wand, wave it around, and suddenly the pumpkin at our feet is a beautiful carriage ready to whisk us off to the ball—and all lanes are free of traffic. Then we realize that’s not God, that’s Cinderella’s fairy godmother. Oops.
Instead of asking God to change my situation, I ask that He change me within my situation. I want to learn whatever it is He says I need to know. If I ask him to “poof” all my troubles away, I’m not learning, and that learning brings me closer to Him. I want to be closer to Him, so I need those times when things don’t go my way. I need to let of the idea of “my way.”
My 7-year-old often finds himself vexed by computer crashes and overly difficult video games to the point of meltdown. He wants the computer to right itself and for the game do what he wants it to do.
“There is nothing you can do to fix this,” I tell him. “All you can do is let it be and find something else to do. Go outside and play,” I say to him. “It’s a lovely day out.”
In grown-up terms: "God, change my heart and my mind to be able see past what I want and to delight instead in what you have in store for me."
3. God can see more than we can see.
"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." —Jeremiah 29:11
We are a short-sighted lot. We try our best at plan and design, but we can’t see what God can see. Often, we’re so caught up in the way we think things should go that we miss the beauty of the way things are. Our plan is never as good as God’s. I don’t know how often I’ve ended up saying, “Once again, God, your plan was better than mine.”
Now, this is all easy to say when the situation in which we find ourselves is just less than optimal—when our video game is too hard to play—but when we’re dealing with something devastating, it’s not as easy to see the beauty in the midst of our heartache. We find ourselves pleading with God to change the circumstance, to set us free from the pain. We are only seeing what’s here on this earth. In those moments, this life is everything. God wants us to know that we are not made for this place. He has set a better place for us, and however much we don’t understand the trials of this life, they are part of hope and the future that God has for us in Heaven.
So far, the heartaches I have faced are the regular woes this life will bring, with an extra worry here and there. I pray often for those I know who have suffered more. I don’t know what this life will lay before me, but I do know that Jesus will stand beside me, and I know His presence is more appealing to me than matching dishes.
Psalm 28:7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.
Lead image from Shutterstock
Read more from Amy Willoughby-Burle in her new novel, The Lemonade Year.
Nina's once-sweet life has unexpectedly turned sour. Her marriage is over, her job is in jeopardy, and her teenage daughter is slipping away from her. Then her father dies and issues with Nina's mother come to a head; her estranged brother, Ray, comes home; and her sister, Lola, is tempted to blow a big family secret out of the water. They say the truth will set you free, but first it will make a huge mess of things.
All Nina has left is her final photography assignment shooting images for the book 32 Ways to Make Lemonade. Well, that and the attention of a younger man, but Oliver's on-again-off-again romantic interest in her ebbs and flows so much she is seasick. And then Jack, her ex-husband, shows up, wanting to get back together.
As Nina struggles to find a way through her complicated relationships and to uncover her true path, she discovers just how valuable a second chance at life and happiness can be.