Sometimes I create in my mind a misguided picture of contentment. I believe if I can work out all the circumstances of my life, I’ll enjoy inner contentment. I picture myself in a hammock, enjoying a good book without a care in the world—then I’ll be content.

However, the more I attempt to get life under control, the more elusive contentment seems. Hardships arise unexpectedly, relationships disappoint, and life’s burdens seem to increase with each passing year. I look over the fence at Paul’s contentment in profound wonder at his confidence to proclaim, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

I’m tempted to wonder, Am I doing something wrong? Why is contentment so difficult to find?

The more I’ve studied this topic, the more I’ve come to realize that my experience of contentment is often hindered by my incorrect expectation of the Christian life. When we come to faith, it’s tempting to believe our lives will be filled with comfort and ease. However, God’s Word describes the Christian life in three unexpected ways: a battle, a race, and childbirth.

A Battle

While I’ve never fought in a battle, one viewing of Saving Private Ryan made me want to curl in a ball and cover my eyes. The reality of the battle scene on the beaches of Normandy was terrifying. In the midst of bullets, blood, and fears, the soldiers pressed forward. It was a small glimpse into painful sacrifices and struggles of wartime.

Paul reminds the Ephesians: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:11-13).

We’re at war. The biggest threat to our safety is to forget a battle is raging. We’re shocked when life is hard and days are weary. When we forget we’re living in wartime conditions, we often find ourselves discouraged and discontent, wondering why life is so difficult.

A Race

Years ago, some friends convinced me to run a half-marathon. We trained for months and then we ran the race. My skin chaffed. My body ached. There were moments when I desperately wanted to just stop running. It required endurance to stay in the race.

The same is true for the Christian life. The writer of Hebrews gives this imagery: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

As we run our race, we may struggle and be exhausted. It doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong just because it’s hard. It’s where we choose to focus our gaze that determines our contentment. Click To Tweet Look to Jesus. Remember his endurance on the cross. Take courage. And then, put one foot in front of the other and keep running the race.

Childbirth

I’ve given birth three times. Contractions tighten in such a way that breathing becomes difficult. Just when one passes, another builds. I squeezed my husband’s arm so tightly he may still have bruises.

Paul uses this imagery to explain our groaning as we await redemption: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8: 22-23).

Our groans of waiting walk alongside our songs of praise. Childbirth is not something anyone describes as easy. Neither is the Christian life.

And yet, we are still a people of contentment and joy.

Hope-filled Contentment

As we consider a battle, race, and childbirth, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. If this is the Christian life, how can we be people of joy?

While each of these images involves struggle, they’re also pictures of hope: A battle is fought in hope of peace. A race is run in hope of a victor’s crown. A mother labors in hope of new life.

Jesus explained, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

In the midst of a world that doesn’t cooperate with our dreams, Jesus is the source of our joy. When life is difficult, he gives us strength. When the battle rages, he is our peace. When loneliness aches, he is with us. Jesus is our hope.

Paul’s secret to contentment wasn’t getting his life in perfect balance. His circumstances were overwhelmingly difficult (see 2 Cor. 11:24-28). Paul gave this explanation for his contentment: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

When our lives feel like a battle, a race, or childbirth, Christ strengthens us with his peace, his hope, his joy. He has overcome all things, so in him, we can experience contentment—in all things.