We all feel it at some point in life. There comes a time when we are just “done” with our present situation. We go along in life and then one day, it hits us, our sense of discontent is too strong to ignore. We experience discontent in all things small and large. From the service at a local store, to the products we buy, to the relationships we have and the leadership under which we live, each day discontent works in the background like a low grade fever.
It’s a grind. A constant pressure that creates internal stress. So how do we handle it?
When we experience discontent with a burrito, we simply take it back and ask for another. If we don’t like our computer, phone or car then change requires slightly more from us. If our discontent is found in our career, zip code, marriage or faith then change reaches the level of complexity where most people are willing to settle and just live with it.
The stress of big change is more than the discontent itself.
Discontent has a lot to do with personality. What one person finds intolerable, another person is content to accept. Because of this variation between people, many have concluded that discontentment is just our inner whiner, it’s accommodating our inner Veruca Salt. Nobody likes a complainer, so we created nobility around suppressing discontent. Mood is another factor. Our internal resources can allow us to overlook things one day while we take issue with something smaller on another.
How can we trust something so passing or so fickle? We wouldn’t want to be petty, right?
Spirituality and life coaching spend a lot of calories leading people into contented lives. In these frameworks, discontentment is the dark force to be avoided, its the sin above which we must rise if we would be godly people who accomplish big things. I’m not diminishing the wisdom that admonishes us toward contentment with what we have. Scripture says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). One look a our city dump is a powerful reminder of how our discontent has overcome us in the arena of consumable goods. Discontent can become fuel that takes our selfishness and pride to toxic and destructive levels: its that powerful.
But I’d like to offer another consideration. Discontentment is a portal. Discontentment is an acknowledgement that you can imagine the world slightly better than it presently is. Whether we are talking about tacos or friendships, outfits or spouses, our discontentment is light that illuminates our ability to discern not just good and bad, but better from better still.
Discontentment is a portal both inward and outward.
Inwardly, discontent opens up a moment of sobriety that escapes us otherwise. If you are discontent with your job, you may find yourself sitting in your car before starting work thinking to yourself: “I really don’t want to be here doing this.” Or maybe you are sitting in the moment of discontent and considering all the other things to which you would love to give your time. This isn’t just procrastinating, day dreaming or moping, this is a sacred moment where your life truly hinges in the balance. Discontent is the seed of change. It becomes dreaming and whining when we do nothing about it.
This is why we must not ignore our discontent. Especially if this is not the first time discontent has bubbled to the surface. Going inward and exploring our true motivations, our heart’s cry, and life’s biggest wishes are core anchor points to which we need to hitch or life’s winch. If we ignore this vital inward soul work, we have no choice but to forfeit the longings of our heart. This kind of giving up is the kind that is toxic to the soul or true self. The seed grows greater discontent until life becomes our living hell.
Outwardly, our discontent is the moment of change. Right now is the only moment any of us can do anything about. Feel trapped in a relationship, a dead end job, or some kind of overly complex dynamic? Guess what, you’re not trapped. There are always options and discontent forces us to explore them. Some solutions are worse than the discontent, but we will never know unless we explore them. Discontent is the necessary pressure to finally say or externalize what we’ve needed to say for a long time. It’s the moment of truth. It’s the point at which nothing is the same afterwards.
So if we ignore our feelings of discontent, we stifle internal and external change, particularly where we are the change agent. Ignoring our discontent is to abdicate our power to change the world and to play the victim who lacks such power. Yes, our discontent will offend some and even create problems for others and ourselves, but it can only do so because it has the power to initiate real, lasting change.
It takes wisdom and soul work to determine if our discontent is really about our comfort, in which case we would do well to temper it, or if it’s a deeper loss of self, in which case we would do well to hear it out. My best advice is to try not to land on either side of the fence. Recognize that our discontentment has the power to initiate huge change and then harness it for positive growth.
The progress of the world and every soul is birthed at least in part from discontent. It’s the privilege and power of bearing the image of God. It’s part of the dominion mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to turn trees into homes, and sand into silicone. So the next time you are discontent, sit with it, be with it, go deep with it.
What you do next could very well change the world or at least your part of it.