Perhaps you’ve heard of restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition in which one has twitches and contractions in the legs. A condition I call Restless Heart Syndrome (RHS) works in a similar way, but in the heart—or soul. Its primary symptom is discontent. We find that we are never satisfied with anything. The moment we acquire something, we scarcely take time to enjoy it before we want something else. We are perennially discontent. This is the nature of RHS, and it is a syndrome that, if left unchecked, can destroy us.
Now, there is a certain discontent that God intended us to have. God actually wired our hearts so that they would be discontent with certain things, causing us to seek the only One who can fully satisfy us. God wants us to be content with certain things and discontent with others. The problem is that we tend to get them confused. We tend to be discontent with those things we are supposed to be content with, and content with those things we are supposed to be discontent with!
James Mackintosh, the great Scottish philosopher and politician of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, said this: “It is right to be contented with what we have, but never with what we are.” In other words, it is a positive motivator to be discontent with our moral character, our spiritual life, our pursuit of holiness, our desire for justice, and our ability to love. These are areas in which we should continue to grow and improve, for we are meant to become more than we are today. We are meant to yearn to know God more, to cultivate a deeper prayer life, to pursue justice and holiness with increasing fervor, to love others more, and to grow in grace and character and wisdom with each passing day. The problem is that we tend to be content with our involvement in pursuing justice in the world. We tend to be content with our level of righteousness—sometimes being self-righteous. We tend to be content with how much we love others. We tend to be content with our relationship with God. We tend to be content with how often we read the Bible and pray. Generally, we are satisfied with those things that deserve more of our time and attention.
Likewise, those things we should be content with are the very things we find ourselves hopelessly discontented with. Most of us, for example, experience discontentment with our stuff—our homes, cars, televisions, gadgets, clothes, and a whole host of other things. We buy our dream home, and two weeks later we notice that the kitchen isn’t quite right and the appliances really don’t meet our needs and the builder’s-grade carpet isn’t quite nice enough. So, the moment we move in, we begin thinking about the improvements we’d like to make. We’re just not completely happy with the house of our dreams. Then there’s the car we couldn’t wait to buy. We think it is great until we drive it off the lot. Before the new-car smell has dissipated, we are already thinking about the next car we want to get. We seem to look for reasons to be unhappy with our stuff so that we can go out and buy new stuff.
At one time or another, most of us also find ourselves discontented with our jobs. In fact, many of us are constantly searching for a new job. Even while at work, we’re looking online to see if there’s a better job out there somewhere. Perhaps we don’t like our boss, so we decide the answer is to find something else. Maybe it’s not the boss; maybe it’s the work environment or the pay. Nevertheless, we’re continually searching for the perfect job that will make us happy.
Many of us do the same thing when it comes to the church. We have an illusion that things are going to be perfect in the church. So when we begin to see all of the “warts,” we become discontented. There’s that usher who wasn’t very friendly to us, and that time the pastor said something that hurt our feelings, and the incident when no one called after we volunteered for something; and before long, all we can see is what’s wrong with the church. We can’t see the good stuff anymore. So we go church shopping and find another church. We hang around there for a couple of years until our feelings get hurt or we are disappointed in some way, and then we go looking for another church again. Somehow we believe the grass is always greener on the other side.
This is what our discontent does to us. Sometimes I think God must look down on us and feel the way we feel when we give someone we really care for a special gift and he or she asks for the gift receipt. God must look at us and think, What is it with these people? I give them all of this, and they keep asking for the gift receipt. It’s as if we’re saying to God, “I don’t like what you have given me, God, and I want something else. I want to trade it in and get something better than what you gave me.”
Clearly, we have RHS. We struggle with discontentment. So, what can we do about it?
In Chapter 3 of Enough, I suggest four ways we can cultivate contentment in the appropriate areas of our lives, followed by five ways to simplify our lives. I have found that the two go hand in hand. When we simplify, we are content; and when we are content, we simplify.