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Contentment Amidst Trauma

Marti Wibbels, MS, LMHC


Contentment could be described as being satisfied. It’s realizing we can survive traumatic stress and be victorious amidst life’s unavoidable challenges and concerns. Not only does an attitude of contentment include choosing to be joyful; it’s relaxing in God’s provision of strength, peace, and hope.

Whenever we don’t choose contentment, we can experience difficult emotions like sadness, hopelessness, depression, hurt, dejection, or frustration. Although those emotions are neither right nor wrong, they can indicate something is wrong. Challenging emotions can be viewed as invitations to learn healthy ways to face life’s inevitable sorrows and disappointments, to learn the art of divine contentment.

Even in the midst of trauma, we can learn contentment. An attitude of contentment can transform every day, interaction, and situation. In Philippians 4:11-14, Paul said, …I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.

A book published in 1653, “The Art of Divine Contentment” is as relevant now as it was then. Author Thomas Watson described contentment as a “hard lesson… the angels [who rebelled] in heaven had not learned; they were not contented.” Citing Job and his suffering, Watson noted that Job blessed God “and was content, even though his children were taken away.” When we, like Job, suffer intense loss, Watson urges us to “think how many mercies you still enjoy.”

Real contentment involves consistently making healthy choices to grow in all areas of life—mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual. 1 Timothy 6:6-8 describes the growth process as … a source of immense profit, for] godliness accompanied with contentment (that contentment which is a sense of inward sufficiency) is great and abundant gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and obviously we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content (satisfied) [Amplified].

Three intentional steps can help us build contentment:

  1. Rest: make time for relaxation, learning to accept legitimate physical needs. In Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., described four gears essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The first gear, Park, is “for rest and renewal,” said Dr. Swenson. Relaxation includes choosing to let your mind be content, allowing God to give you His peace amidst current challenges and concerns. The second gear, Low, is the “gear for relationships, for family and friends…the gear [that] prevents us from being distracted and nervously moving on to the next activity while still in the middle of a conversation.” The third gear, Drive, is “our usual gear for work and play. This gear uses lots of energy, and the faster speed feels good because it is productive.” Swenson says the fourth gear, Overdrive, “needs to be reserved for times that require extra effort.”
  2. Enjoy God’s creation: time in nature can result in lavish psychological benefits, including improved attention span and mood, as well as increased activity in areas of the brain responsible for empathy and emotional stability. Being outdoors in sunshine also allows exposure to essential vitamin D, helping maintain a healthy immune system.
  3. Look at life through the lens of God’s Word. Choosing to focus on Him instead of problems, people, or other concerns, we experience “peace that passes understanding” (see Philippians 4:7), discovering the reality of His promise to be “our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1).

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