Let go. Hold On.

During the brainstorming process for this post I wrote three different introductions. By the end of the third one, I realized my words weren’t honest words. They were words which at one time were honest, words which would make a good outline for a post. But they weren’t words describing how I actually feel right now. You see, I was trying to write a post about how I’m not content with everything in my life right now because at times in my life discontentment has been my default. While I might have frustrating days at work and while my husband and I would love to live in a slightly bigger apartment, I’m content.

Remarkably content.

From a fifth floor apartment with sometimes horrendous street parking in Portugal to a small Irish town a solid twenty minutes from a shopping mall, I’ve found contentment even when circumstances weren’t always ideal. Difficulty finding a parking spot and driving a long distance for a shopping mall weren’t the areas where I struggled most with contentment when living overseas. However, challenging situations with others and my own emotional healing made it easier to be discontent with the life details of living overseas and now in my passport country.

I don’t have a five-step process as to how a content heart has developed. I haven’t taken a social media fast to eliminate comparing my life to the life of others. I haven’t quoted Philippians 4 each day. I haven’t made a daily list of everything I’m thankful for. But I have found the sweet spot of contentment after a whole lot of crazy transition. The sweet spot isn’t easy to discover. In fact, reaching this point has involved working through discontentment related to reverse culture shock, the continual struggle to make new friends, and healing from the hurt of my last two years overseas.

Contentment has come as I’ve let go – of expectations, of complaining, of comparison. As I release each of these, my heart settles in and my mind accepts what is in front of me. This sense of contentment occurred as I adjusted to new countries and as I adjust back to my passport country.

As I let go of my expectations that everyone will like me, that I will do perfect work, that paperwork and unexpected hassles will never occur, I find joy in the everyday. I learn from my mistakes. I build meaningful friendships with a few people. And my heart is content. Keeping this attitude means the regular release of expectations. From having an immaculate apartment to fitting in quickly on a new team, the less I focus on my expectations and accomplishing them no matter the cost, the more content I become.

Letting go of expectations which lead to discontentment frees me to grab hold of what helps me to become content. My journal includes prayers about all the difficult aspects of life, as well as what I’m thankful for in my life. A beautiful view from a living room window, a café across the street, an afternoon with my nieces and nephew – thanking God for His goodness in the little things gives the perspective my heart needs to be content. This attitude of thanksgiving has developed gradually over the years and has become a habit of mine when I journal and pray.

Regular overseas moves helped me learn to grab hold of living with what I have. A furnished apartment, a few special items from home and minimal space for kitchen gadgets showed me I can live without what many deem necessary. Due to finances or circumstances I was often unable to purchase what I didn’t absolutely need. Now I’m surrounded by a smattering of furniture and unbothered by it. Living without was part of life for so long that I can’t imagine trying to have everything I want anymore.

Slowly I’ve learned to hold onto my limitations. When I accept I can’t do everything, I remove the pressure to be like everyone else, to do all the things they do, to compare myself to them. I’m finding knowing my own limitations helps me to be content with what I’m doing in all areas of life – marriage, home, work, writing, church and friendships. Filling my evenings with social activities because I feel as though it’s expected of me will never lead to a content heart for me. What will lead to contentment is spending time with my husband and finding time each day to write or read.

The lessons I learned about contentment while I was overseas make a difference in how I live life now. They impact what I release and what I hold on to. I know I don’t need to follow every cultural trend to be content since I spent quite a bit of time living in cultures where I didn’t fit in. My life doesn’t need to look exactly like the lives of those around me because true contentment isn’t found in fitting a perfect mold, it is found in Christ and in knowing He is the one who gives me the strength to be content no matter what I have or don’t have.

What has helped you develop a content heart?

6 Comments

  1. Chelsea November 20, 2016

    Hi Laura,

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve only been overseas for three months at this point but have definitely been struggling with contentment and comparing myself with others. These words gave me a wave of relief and comfort. Thanks!!

    1. Laura November 23, 2016

      Chelsea,

      You’re welcome! Praying for you as you continue to adjust to your new surroundings and life. 🙂

  2. Vivian November 20, 2016

    Laura,
    Amen! Contentment is such a gift from the Lord! I have many times struggled with contentment and it can be miserable. However, when I wait on the Lord, let go of control, and trust Him…I am so much happier. God help me to let go of my expectations to have life happen a certain way and to see how God has blessed me. Help me to accept my situation and who I am. Thank you for a wonderful reminder! I think I needed to hear that!

    1. Laura November 23, 2016

      Vivian,
      I love your prayer; thank you for sharing! 🙂

  3. Charlotte November 22, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your experience and lessons, Laura. It made me recognize the conflict I’m in right now is due to trying to control the situation so my expectations will be fulfilled. You helped me let go so God’s work can be done, thus freeing me to be content in Him. ☺️

    1. Laura November 23, 2016

      Charlotte,

      You’re welcome! I’m thankful my words helped you as you work through this conflict.

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