The Secret of Contentment in Motherhood

With Eyes on Jesus

I took a physical education class in college to fulfill a graduation requirement, and I still remember a multiple-choice problem that I got wrong on an exam. The question was: When running, where should a person look? I marked the letter next to the answer that said to look at the ground. It made sense to me. Shouldn’t I look down to avoid tripping over tree roots, puddles, or whatever other obstacles might lie on my path? My teacher considered my case but wasn’t swayed. While it’s important to be aware of one’s surroundings, the correct answer was that a runner should look straight ahead.

An athlete ought always to keep his or her eyes on the prize, and even if you and I move at a snail’s pace on our journeys heavenward, so should we. Burrs might stick to our socks, brambles catch our shirtsleeves, and sharp curves require some fancy footwork on off-road trails, but our gaze should be fixed forward-facing. However sharp our impediments feel when they poke us, we must resist the temptation to spend all our time staring at and trying to outmaneuver them. Instead, we ought to concentrate the majority of our energy on moving forward in this race, remembering who ran it before us travels with us, and waits for us at the finish line—Jesus.

How does God intend for us to live in our trials? With eyes on Jesus. We must focus on following Jesus in our trials. And this is closely tied to biblical contentment.

God Is Still Good

Katie Faris

God Is Still Good invites women to experience God’s comfort and grace through the sorrows of motherhood and leads them to put their hope in Christ, despite the unexpected trials of life. 

A Secret Revealed

My daughter loves a secret, especially if it has anything to do with Christmas or an upcoming birthday. Her eyes sparkle, and a grin stretches across her face as she puts her finger to her lips and nods her head in a knowing way. She promises not to say a word to her older brothers about a package she spies on our front porch. Can you relate to her joy? How would you like to learn a secret about following Jesus in your trials? It’s the secret of contentment.

The apostle Paul faced numerous hurdles of his own, and this is what he wrote to the Philippian church: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Phil. 4:11–12). Moms who suffer know what it is to be brought low. We understand sorrow, wordless prayers, sleepless nights, and overflowing tears. We’re familiar with need—whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, or some other kind. But do we know what it is to be content? Have we learned Paul’s secret? It’s right there in verse 13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

Paul learned contentment. Not overnight, but over time. So don’t feel pressure to figure out this secret immediately. But here is more hope and comfort for you: no matter how much mom life does or doesn’t look the way you imagined it would, you too can learn the secret of contentment. It might seem like a lofty goal, but it isn’t an unattainable one. Through Christ, you and I can do all things—even suffer as moms and help our suffering children—through Christ who strengthens us. This is the secret to contentment in our motherhood trials, and it has everything to do with sticking close to Jesus.

Everything We Need

We have everything we need for the trials we face. How is this possible? Through Christ who strengthens us. God, who demonstrated his power in saving us, “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3). Not only that, but he has given us “his precious and very great promises” to accompany us along the way (2 Pet. 1:3–4). In Christ, we have everything we need.

We don’t have to grieve as others who have no hope grieve, because we have the hope of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13). We don’t have to fear, even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because our good shepherd walks with us, and his rod and staff comfort us (Ps. 23:4). We don’t have to worry when the storms beat against our homes. Why not? Because our lives are built on the rock (Matt. 7:25). We don’t have to grieve, fear, or worry, but if and when we do, we look to Jesus. He is our refuge (Ps. 46:1). He is our shield (Ps. 84:9). He is the one who speaks calm into our storms. His power is our strength, especially in weakness, and his grace is more than enough and available whenever we need it (2 Cor. 12:9; Heb. 4:16).

With Christ, we have every reason—and all we need—to be truly content. But there’s another huge reality. Our hearts are prone to wander, and wandering hearts so often lead to wandering eyes, and those roaming eyes frequently land on another woman and what she has or hasn’t got. When that happens, there’s one danger that poses particular risk to suffering moms, one that threatens our full experience of the sufficiency of Christ and the discovery and enjoyment of the contentment he offers. This is the danger of sinful comparison. Before we dive into further discussion of how to stay connected to Christ and the contentment he offers, it’s worth considering how sinful comparison can lead us off course.

Glancing in the Wrong Direction

While comparison itself—a simple lining up of two things to observe similarities and differences—isn’t sinful, it doesn’t take much for it to become so. And it doesn’t take long for sinful judgment, discouragement, complaining, and discontentment to follow sinful comparison. I learned this the hard way.

When our children were first diagnosed with Alpha-1 (a serious genetic condition that can have life-threatening impacts on the liver in childhood and the liver or lungs over time), Scott and I shared one car, we had a newborn, and I was homeschooling. In a matter of weeks, I had to figure out how to coordinate appointments with four different pediatric specialists for multiple children, as well as manage regular bloodwork and administer daily medications. I spent hours on the phone—navigating the hospital system—to guarantee I scheduled appointments with the right doctors at the correct locations. I couldn’t have imagined squeezing one more thing into our jammed schedule. Then I’d see other moms with healthy children and think, “Wouldn’t it be nice to drive my seven-year-old to sports practice instead of to the gastroenterologist? Wouldn’t I prefer that my kids learn how to play an instrument rather than how to take inhaled medications? It would be lovely to wait outside of an art class instead of waiting for a nurse to lead my children into the doctor’s office.”

A voice in my head whispered, “Those other moms probably have their own parenting challenges too. You just can’t see them.” While that may have been true, I found myself wrongly wishing that were true, not so much for their sakes as for my own. I’m embarrassed to admit that as someone walking through sorrow, stress, and isolation, as someone who should have been the last to wish the same on anyone else, I wanted those other moms to feel the way I did. You see, I’d sinfully compared myself to them, my story to theirs, and both I and my story came up short. Somehow, I wanted to level the field. It wasn’t so much that I wished to switch places as I wanted others to experience some of what I felt, and I wanted pieces of their lives.

How does God intend for us to live in our trials? With eyes on Jesus.

You Follow Me

In the middle of my real struggle with sinful comparison, the Lord arrested my heart with a conversation that took place in the Bible between Jesus and Peter, and it reset my course. This was the third time Jesus’s disciples recognized him following his resurrection, and John recorded how Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to reaffirm his love for his Savior—one for each of the times he had denied knowing the Lord. But it was what they talked about next that really caught my attention.

As Peter walked and talked with Jesus, assured of his Lord’s full forgiveness and having restated his love and commitment to him, Peter noticed John. He asked Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” (John 21:21). In Peter’s question, I hear my own: “Lord, what about her? What about that other mom at the park? What about my neighbor down the street? What about the woman sitting across the aisle from me at church? What’s her story, and how will it turn out? Will it be easier or harder than mine? Will she suffer more or less than I will?”

Jesus answered, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). I wonder if his answer to anyone who asks such questions today is similar. This may sound harsh, but please bear with me in applying this idea to some of the tender places of the heart in order to make a point.

If it’s the Lord’s will that another woman’s child be well and yours be sick, what of it?

If it’s the Lord’s will that another woman get pregnant easily and it takes longer for you, what of it?

If it’s the Lord’s will that her path be smoother than yours, what of it?

I cringe even writing and rereading those questions, but here’s my point: Why does the Lord’s will for another woman’s life matter so much to us? It doesn’t change the imperative: “Follow me!”

We may never understand why God says yes to one woman and no to us. God isn’t bound to explain his reasons to us. But context matters. So does the speaker. When Jesus essentially told Peter not to trouble himself about John’s story, he did so in the very same conversation that affirmed the love between them. And in light of our heavenly Father’s love for us, demonstrated in sending Jesus to die on the cross and rescue us from our sin, we can trust him when he says that he doesn’t withhold anything good from his faithful daughters (Ps. 84:11). If our good Father, who loves to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:13; James 1:17), says yes to her and no to you or me, then he must have a greater good in mind. These are hard truths to swallow, but we can swallow them because we know the goodness of the one who first spoke them. It’s possible to both lament our losses and delight in Christ’s love for us.

By God’s grace, our family’s schedule has relaxed. Our children don’t see as many specialists anymore, and the ones we do visit, we don’t go to as frequently; this breathing space has allowed our children to participate in a variety of activities, some of which I didn’t know back then would be possible today.

But another expression of the Lord’s kindness was found in his gentle correction, showing me that sinful comparison only ever leads in a bad direction. Whenever you or I meander that wrong road, we find the way back in Jesus’s injunction, “You follow me!” (John 21:22). Whatever else God chooses to give or withhold from us, only in Christ do we find strength to travel with contentment—no matter what comes at us.

Fix Your Gaze on Jesus

To sum up, don’t look at the ground (at all of your obstacles), but also don’t look around (getting caught in the comparison trap). Instead, keep your gaze fixed on Jesus. Let him write your story, and don’t get consumed comparing yours to someone else’s. Trust him to be enough when your friend has a husband and you don’t. Trust his provision even when your sister has a steady cash flow and you don’t. Follow Jesus. This is the antidote to discontentment. It’s also the source of true contentment. Because, as we already saw, we have everything we need in Jesus. Sinful comparison leads to discontentment, along with a host of other things, but following Jesus keeps our eyes where they need to be and allows us to walk even the hardest roads with confident hope.

This article is adapted from God Is Still Good: Gospel Hope and Comfort for the Unexpected Sorrows of Motherhood by Katie Faris.

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