When life doesn’t turn out the way we want, we often look for ways to change ourselves or our circumstances. Julie Ganschow speaks truthfully and helpfully about how to counsel those with a discontented heart.
Recently, a longtime acquaintance of mine I’ll call Jane ended her life. Although she had no organic component and was otherwise in excellent health, she took psychotropic medications for many years to manage her feelings of depression. Jane left behind a loving and supportive husband and a couple of adult children who stood by her throughout her struggle and all the adjustments of numerous medication changes. She had previously sought help from an excellent biblical counselor who told me that what Jane really struggled with was discontentment.
Jane held a job she didn’t really like but needed to maintain for financial purposes. Her real love of the arts did not provide a sustainable income, however it was the place she found her happiness. When she was performing or attending an event she was in her element. It was her Utopia.
Where is Utopia? Over the centuries millions have sought to find it by various means: Drugs, alcohol, money, sex, and power are all things people have used to attempt to get to the place they long to be. Sadly, none of those methods has been successful, and many like Jane have died trying to get there.
Where is Your Personal Utopia?
Utopia is the place we use to describe our personal heaven. Each one of us has some sort of an idea about what our personal utopia would look like. It’s the place where all is continually well, there are no problems or difficulties, and every desire is sated. We look the way we want to look, and we always feel good, happy, and content. I am willing to bet you spend time there in your own mind, especially when things in life get rough.
Usually as we meditate on the reasons we have not reached our personal utopia, the phrase “if only” comes to mind. As we take stock of the decisions we have made we attempt to replay life as though, if we had done something different, we would have gained Utopia. Have you ever gone down the “if only” road?
“I would be happy if only I had just a little bit more control, a little more power, a little bit more approval, a little bit more pleasure.”
The “if only” road reveals the wants, thoughts, and desires of the heart that become the idols that produce discontentment.
Utopia is always just beyond our reach
As biblical counselors, we meet people like Jane every day that began pursuing what would make them happy, but now find themselves with a diagnosis code, taking psychotropic medications. Their pursuit of thinness became Anorexia or Bulimia; their pursuit of control became Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; and dissatisfaction with reality became “addiction” to alcohol, drugs, cosmetic surgery, or pornography.
They come to us because despite their diagnosis, their therapy, and their psych meds they are still struggling with all or part of their original complaint. They are still not happy – they are immersed in their emotions and they want to feel better, or their emotions are mostly deadened from their psych meds. They are still not content – they wrongly believe life would be perfect if they had a better wife/husband, children, job, friendships, church, or retirement plan. They are still not pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough and they still can’t control people and circumstances in their lives. The cause of their discontentment has not been addressed.
Discontentment Begins in the Heart
Discontentment is an issue of the heart that has plagued us since Genesis 3. Even Christians seek treasures that cannot really satisfy, and learn that contentment is elusive when sought through things that are found in the world. The heart is never satisfied and is rarely content. The more we seek to satisfy the lusts of the heart the more we complicate our lives by sin.
Before the discontented person will change their behavior, they must have a change of heart. We help the discontented person with or without a mental illness diagnosis when we dig down to the heart issues that drive those feelings. The biblical counselor will bring the appropriate Scriptures to bear to aid counselees in understanding that discontentment is a result of wrong thinking, wrong beliefs, and wrong desires. Before actions can change, the person must think differently. Their belief system has to be affected and that requires a renewing of the mind; in essence, a change of heart. The goal of intensive discipleship counseling is that the counselee will learn to glorify God even in the midst of the struggle, and through it be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ.
Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
Contentment is found in Christ alone, not by removing the problem, getting what you want, stopping a behavior, or feeling better. The maturing Christian will understand that nothing of any spiritual value (outside of our redemption) is immediate. The best growth and change comes with time and begins with being pressed, squeezed, and mashed by struggles and trials. It is through these adverse situations we learn that even when all else fails, we can experience the goodness and grace of God, and find contentment in Him.