The following is adapted from Possibilities: Partnering with God to Become Your Best Selfby Kiersten Lortz.
Is it possible to desire more for our lives without becoming prideful and selfish? How do we decipher between living with gratitude and becoming complacent and living below our own standards? How do we balance doing more in an effort to improve with “losing our life” in order to serve the Lord? These are tricky questions, mainly because the answer isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Comparing the sacrifices we are willing to make with those another person is willing to make will not work. We can certainly learn from the choices of others, but that won’t tell us what choices are right for us. In this section, we will discuss a scripture that contrasts the difference between being content and grateful with being comfortably complacent. We will also consider how balance can be achieved between losing our life to serve the Lord and aspiring to make good things happen for ourselves.
To Rest Content
Hebrews 13:5 reads: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have.” I know this one hits home for a lot of us. Have you ever found yourself mumbling jealously about another woman’s house or clothes? Do you feel a tinge of longing when someone posts about their fabulous vacation? Have you had conversations with the pretense that you are happy for a friend when you are really bitter that she had an opportunity you haven’t? I have. It can be difficult to celebrate the good in another person’s life when we feel we have not been equally blessed. To paraphrase Alma 41:10, bitterness never was happiness, and since we’re on a quest for greater happiness, we need to rid ourselves of that feeling.
Let’s work backward through our Hebrews scripture to clarify. To “be content with such things as ye have” does not imply that we should sit idly by with an attitude of, “I’m all good here. I don’t need to do any more. I’ve got this all figured out.” That is complacency rearing its ugly head. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines content as “satisfied, not displeased.” Furthermore, “to rest content” means “to be at peace with oneself” (Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, s.v. “content”). Wow. When is the last time you felt at peace with yourself?
Another aspect of contentment is living with gratitude for the blessings we do have instead of always wishing for more. Contentment means we are proactive in our choices instead of reactive to our situation. It means we see the good and make an effort to share it with others.
This isn’t always easy. For many months last year, I noticed that my sweet and loving daughter was getting grumpier and grumpier. She was more irritable, less cooperative, and not having as many positive social interactions as I had seen previously. One day, after a bout of stomping and grumbling, I said to her, “Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it.” We talked about putting a smile on your face even when you are seething inside and stepping back to gain your composure before losing your temper. The conversation ended, and she moved on with an obviously fake smile plastered on her freckled face.
I thought about that conversation over the next few days. I wondered why my children were so grumpy when other children were not. I thought about the families I knew whose children were happy and pleasant. There was one common denominator—they had a happy mother. I began to see where the problem was. I was propagating grumpiness to my entire family. I am very much a believer that the energy we emit is contagious, and I knew I was circulating emotional toxins throughout my home when I nestled into my irritable state. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I decided to fake it till I made it. Now, friends, I will readily admit there have been many times when I have smiled at my children and given them a soft answer when I really want to throw them out the window, but I have developed a testimony that this simple change—even if it’s fake—brings more peace and joy to me and to my family.
Would you believe that I started feeling happier and more content? I began to love and appreciate my children more, and they became more loving and affectionate toward me. Instead of dragging each other down, we have shared more laughs, hugs, cuddles, and stories. There’s a tangible difference in our home when I, the mother, put on a smile. I am more receptive to the Spirit, and I feel more self-control in all aspects of my life. The Lord consecrates those efforts, and my family and I are blessed. You see that there are times when contentment may be hard to come by, but it is by creating what we want that we take control of our minds and cultivate the thoughts we wish to keep, which then direct our minds, emotions, and energies.
In order to achieve peace with ourselves, as the dictionary describes it, we have to be setting and reaching our expectations. Whether our goals are temporal or spiritual, to-be’s or to-do’s, cultivating a nature of progression develops self-esteem, invites the Spirit, and brings us closer to our Heavenly Father. We begin to see ourselves the way He sees us, and we feel better because we are not stagnant in our growth but constantly moving to a higher place. This is the direction we want to be headed. This is where the Spirit can dwell.
As you find ways to create greater contentment in your life, you will be able to experience joy more clearly. Whether we are striving to achieve grand dreams or simply to better ourselves, finding contentment with where we are in the process is what brings peace.
You Can Be Content and Ambitious Too
Being content does not mean that we stop striving to be our best or that we play the martyr to keep the peace. The gospel teaches us that we should be ever-learning, ever-growing, and ever-striving to be a little bit better than we were yesterday. Contentment means avoiding the natural woman’s desire to be better than others and instead focusing only on herself. Contentment can coexist with ambition when that ambition is for progression and growth. We must stay focused on our own vision without comparing our progress to those around us. Using our ambition, we are compelled to reach higher and become better. It means working hard to achieve goals, develop talents, or learn new skills—accompanied by a grateful heart for what we already have, recognizing and appreciating the opportunity we have to progress.
When working toward your goals, it is important to keep yourself grounded in the why of the process (to progress, increase joy and fulfillment, etc.) instead of seeking for external recognition. Remember, contentment comes from within you, not from worldly acknowledgments. When we keep that in mind, it is possible to be at peace with ourselves and feel real contentment but still desire to improve ourselves and our condition.
Many times we struggle to separate our sense of purpose with the world’s criteria. We need to be clear that this is a personal opinion, and though I encourage all women to pursue their own greatness, I do not believe that a piece of paper or number on a scale or particular promotion should be what we use to validate our self-worth.
Melissa was in school studying health information management and was extremely skilled and knowledgeable in her field. She was a coding specialist and worked with multiple doctors in multiple fields, and soon she was being flown to Arizona to teach classes. She began to write about her work experience and gained education credits through this involvement. She loved the work; it brought her a lot of joy and fulfillment.
Melissa gave birth to a little girl, who was soon diagnosed with arthrogryposis, a debilitating disease that would leave the child crippled. The stress in their home began to mount, and Melissa realized that her family needed her time and energy. She quit school and began to learn everything she could about her daughter’s illness, taking her to multiple doctors and eventually moving halfway across the country to be closer to the one who was willing to provide the support and treatment they desired. She continued to take classes on and off but never finished school.
She says, “I don’t know if it is a dream to finish, but maybe I feel like society would value me more if I finished. If I said, ‘Yes, I have a degree,’ then maybe people would think better of me. It’s just different when you become a mom and you are trying to find your identity of ‘I’m more than just a mom. I went to college. I have a brain. The doctors flew me all over to teach. I’m a smart person.’”
Melissa knows that she made the best decision for herself and her family and is certain that, could she do it all again, she would not change a thing. The doctors told her that her daughter would never walk, but today the little girl does walk because of her mother’s knowledge and determination to find answers. Melissa found a new sense of purpose when she was able to put her knowledge to work to provide a better life for her daughter. Now that both of her girls are in school, Melissa is beginning to think about going back—not to prove to anyone else that she is “good enough,” but as a gift to herself.
It is crucial that each of us is true to the purpose we have been placed here for by living our best life, whether it involves worldly recognition or not. We may know through the Holy Ghost if we are honestly reaching for our best or if we are settling for less than we are capable of. Putting our all into the course we choose will ensure that its purpose is achieved.
Complacency, Our Greatest Enemy
In contrast to contentment, complacency is defined as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies (Merriam-Webster Online, s.v. “complacency,” accessed December 30, 2016). When we are complacent, we stop striving toward perfection because we believe our way is the best or because we have forgotten that growth is a part of our Father’s eternal plan.
Complacency is not a gospel principle. It is a cousin to laziness and pride. Satan is the master of disguise and can easily lead us from contentment to complacency if we do not keep our pride in check. There is a thin line between “I am so grateful for what I have” and “Wow. I sure am better off than those people. Looks like I’ve done pretty well for myself.”
What I find more interesting, though, is a second definition I found in an old printed dictionary that defines complacency as “mild contentment” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus, s.v. “complacency”).
When we feel stuck, we have convinced ourselves that we are helpless, that we have no control over our situation and that’s “just the way it is.” We stop reaching higher because we have convinced ourselves that we are either too weak, too busy, too dumb, or too [fill-in-the-blank] to accomplish what we desire. We’re so scared of making a mistake or disappointing others or stepping outside our comfort zone that we shut off notions of discontent in order to maintain the status quo. We put on the air of contentment while, deep inside, we are miserable. We are mildly content because we have been told that is how we are “supposed” to feel.
There seems to be an unspoken law that admitting we aren’t happy or that we want more out of life is a sign of ingratitude, and none of us wants to be guilty of that. So we go on accepting life as it is, swallowing our sadness, and convincing ourselves that we feel great even when we can’t shake the feeling of dissatisfaction. Why rock the boat, right? Unfortunately, when we bury our emotions over an extended period of time, eventually sadness becomes bitterness, which leads to greater sadness, which leads to greater bitterness, which leads to . . . You get the idea. Living like this is miserable and will slowly eat away at your self-esteem. I’m giving you permission right now to stop wallowing and start living.
It is time to move past complacency and pursue true contentment and fulfillment. We must take action. We must create, progress, and aspire. By taking a more active role in the unfolding of your life, you can be more and do more while still finding joy in the multitude of blessings that surround you. There is a balance that has to be achieved, but you can shed the guilt and get on your way to making it happen.
Lead image from Shutterstock
by Kiersten Lortz
Do you feel stuck? Do you wish for a more joyful life than the one you're leading? If the routine and pressures of life have you running on autopilot, it may be time to reevaluate your current course and remember that change begins within yourself—and it takes work! With refreshing insights, author Kiersten Lortz encourages you to stop waiting for things to get better and to expect the best out of life—not for yourself but of yourself. Through inspired gospel teachings and personal experiences shared by women who have also felt stuck, you will be empowered to make the changes necessary to claim a more fulfilling and abundant life. now is the time to transform yourself into a woman of industry and faith. By learning to eliminate negative influences, seek positivity, and create a life of productivity, you can find the strength to take action today.