The Green Ooze of Discontent

I have a secret.

I can’t watch Chip and Joanna. I know. I’m sorry.

In case you don’t know (or don’t have access to American cable television), they are the married hosts of the HGTV show Fixer Upper. Every time their sweet faces appear on the TV with their beautiful decorations, homey lifestyle and farmhouse antics, ugly green thoughts of – dare I say – discontent come oozing from my heart.

I seriously love their show, love their faith and love their family values. These things shine in everything they do. But I can’t watch.

{Ugh… that sounds awful. But I think you’ll see what I mean. Stick with me.}

When I consume too much homey, happy, sappy stuff or when I surround myself with things that constantly remind me of other places, other times and other ways I could be spending my days, Satan cooks up a whole lot of the ugly green ooze in my heart. In fact, he doesn’t have to do much cooking. The ooze of jealousy, frustration and discontent tends to add ingredients, stir, and cook up just fine all on its own.

This is especially true around the holidays. Even the tiniest piece of Americana can bring tears to my eyes as my breath catches with a memory of home. Truly, an unexpected country love song playing from the surround sound had me crying at the grocery store recently. My husband found me all teary in the limited cereal aisle while trying to find a box of corn flakes that didn’t have bugs and wasn’t expired.

In this moment, I’m purposefully dwelling on the word contentment.

You see, I know the feeling of discontent. I have lived it and battled it. From the moment we had our first garage sale to weighing those 50lb bins the night before we flew to France to finally having a house in West Africa but little to no furniture to even unpack our things, the battle for contentment has raged.

Hallmark movies, Fixer Upper and the Pioneer Woman do little to help with their snowy Christmas mountain scenes, homey spaces and delicious holiday recipes. Not when I have no snow, a sterile tile house and few ingredients to make holiday favorites.

So, I have to limit my intake of those things, those reminders. I have to be purposeful about this place, this moment, this home, and this day.

I must remember that this place and this day have many wonderful things that I love and am growing to love more and more with each month that passes. Expat life is rewarding, beautiful and adventurous. Kingdom work is engaging and life-giving and I feel blessed to be a part of it.

Yet, if I’m not careful, the wonderful things can be quickly and easily crowded out with thoughts of other loves, other joys and other memories.

As I purposefully think on contentment this holiday season, I am drawn to a few words of wisdom from Solomon.

Can we pretend we are all gathered in one room, enjoying an hour together? This chapter is going to take some wrestling because it seems to argue both sides of contentment. Grab your Bible and open it to Ecclesiastes 5 and read verses 10-20.

Start at verse 10 and replace the words “money” or “wealth” or “goods” with words of your own. Words of things you love, things that cause teary eyes or a catch in your breath with homesickness.

Just take verse 10. “Whoever loves Fixer Upper never has enough; whoever loves homeyness is never satisfied with her home.”

You can follow this painful, eye-opening process through to verse 18. At the end of that exercise you’ll either leave our little gathering or be ready for what comes next.

After the tirade of “riches are meaningless,” the verses come full circle as Solomon reminds us that the things we love are not bad. In fact, Solomon realizes that it is good and proper to enjoy them! After all, our lives are short so why not?

The answer comes in a few key phrases that Solomon wisely mentions as he puts balance to the wrestling of “riches are meaningless” and “Your life is short so enjoy it all!”

Verse 18 says, “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot.”

Verse 19 says, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.”

Friends, our labor IS toilsome. We toil under the sun and even, as verse 16 said, we often feel like we are toiling for the wind. We have a unique lot in a country often not of our own choosing. Our lives ARE short and can seemingly pass us by with days that do not seem all that good and proper. Our days are often a recipe for the green ooze of discontent.

Not that we can’t look back and remember sometimes. Not that we can’t enjoy the things we love or watch a good, clean home improvement show. We can and we should. Yet, somehow we must be content with what we have in the jobs he has called us to do. I think that is at the heart of Solomon’s struggle with discontent through his life, and also at the heart of our battle with discontent in our lives overseas.

Digging back into Ecclesiastes 5, it is verse 20 that really stands out, gives us tools for the battle and offers purpose in choosing contentment.

“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”

If we continually reflect on the days of our lives and choose to look back, look to the side, look to our home countries to find contentment, we will fail to be occupied with true gladness of heart.

Gladness of heart can only come when we purposefully choose to be occupied with the things God is doing right now, in our work, in our lives, in our day. When we live in this moment, this time, this place, we will see God at work. We will see his blessings. We will see his hand.

How does the battle with contentment wrestle out for you? What things do you do to guard against the green ooze of discontent in your heart? How do you find contentment in your day with a true gladness of heart?

What do you think?

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