People rarely seem content anymore. We’re always running around, comparing ourselves to other people, looking towards what we have declared as our next mountain to conquer, never satisfied and forever afraid of becoming complacent.
It’s as though we have declared complacency and contentment synonyms. But let me just say, they’re not. Perhaps we could call them enemies, not quite antonyms, but definitely not synonyms.
Complacent: Showing smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one’s achievements
Content: In a state of peaceful happiness or satisfaction
It’s easy to confuse these words as synonyms because they have one thing in common, a sense of satisfaction. But the critical difference lies in the source of satisfaction. Someone who is complacent is satisfied in themselves; a person who is content is satisfied as a result of peace despite circumstances, a peace that passes understanding, a peace that comes from knowing and trusting wholeheartedly in God.
It’s important to understand the differences in complacency and contentment so we can steer clear of smug satisfaction and find true and lasting joy in peaceful satisfaction:
- Complacency is proud, but contentment is humble. When we are complacent, we have deemed our accomplishments worthy of satisfaction and look down on everyone else around us. When we are content, on the other hand, we recognize our inability to control the world around us and yet decide to be peacefully satisfied anyway.
- Complacent people trust only in themselves while content people trust completely in God. Complacency comes from self-importance. Rather than allowing God to lead the way, complacent people are self-led, self-trusting, so they stop short of their full destiny. People who are content, though, trust wholeheartedly in God instead of in themselves. They trust God’s timing, God’s plan, and God’s leading above all. With God at the center, they can rest easy, peaceful.
- Complacency never looks higher, because a complacent person already thinks they are at the top. They have settled for where they are rather than looking ahead to new things. Content people, however, are always looking up to the only One who can take us higher. They don’t seek out new things for themselves but rather seek God who brings all good things. Complacent people are limited by their own strength, but content people ultimately achieve the impossible as a result of looking to God for strength.
- Complacency is circumstance based; Contentment is heart based. Complacent people settle for where they are because they are comfortable in their circumstances. Content people, though, are peaceful no matter the circumstances of life. Complacency is fueled by the outward situation while contentment is fueled by the attitude of the heart. When the heart is at peace and content, we will not be shaken no matter what comes our way.
It’s not easy to be content in today’s world. Everything is fast paced. We can see what anyone and everyone is doing with a click click click. Fame is glamorized as the prize to be attained. We are deemed worthy based on the number of people that know our name. We find ourselves in search of titles and accolades, an “at’a boy” or a “you go girl.” We make our choices based on what will look best and on who we think will consider our actions cool or not. When we reach a goal, there is always something beyond. And so we find ourselves easily unsatisfied.
Complacency isn’t the only enemy of contentment. The search for worldly recognition also keeps us from finding that state of peaceful satisfaction.
The western world praises dissatisfaction, though, deeming it the catalyst of innovation, of growth, of greatness. And is that so incorrect? Doesn’t God call us deep unto deep, glory to glory, never leaving us where we are? Of course! But that is vastly different from the achievement the world asks us strive for.
Similar to complacency, if we know the characteristics of worldly striving and how it strays from the contentment God has for us, we can more easily keep from falling into its grasp.
- Like complacent people, people who are striving for worldly recognition and achievement have misplaced trust. Instead of trusting God to lead them and take care of them, they trust in themselves and in others to get them where they want to be. Strivers trust in their own ambitions instead of in the leading of God. Content people, though, put their full trust in God, believing and knowing that His plans are greater and higher than anything we could ever dream up for ourselves.
- People who run after the recognition of the world search for acceptance in the world. They are steadily looking around them to make sure others approve, and they are forever chasing after accolades to give themselves value. But accolades, awards, and compliments only take us so far. Before long, we need another to keep us going. Content people, on the other hand, find their acceptance and value in God and who God says they are. God’s Word never changes, and His love is not based on merit, so the self-worth that comes from knowing we are children of God is lasting. It never fades away.
- People who are striving to meet the standards of the world have their focus on the outcome while content people stay focused on the process. The world is not worried about how people get to where they are. In fact, many in the world advocate taking shady measures to achieve success. According to the world’s standards it doesn’t matter how you get to the top, only that you do. But content people recognize that life itself is a process, and the top is only an illusion. Understanding that success is fleeting and never what it seems, content people take each day step by step and find joy in the process rather than in the outcome. They take godly pride in themselves when they do work with excellence, learn something new, mature, or are able to pour into someone else’s life. For content people, the joy is in the journey, not the destination, and so they maintain peace no matter what life brings.
- The world begs for more more more out of strivers, but in God’s kingdom, it is about the quality, not the quantity. Is it better to have a small influence on many people or to have a life-long impact on a few? It is meaningless to have a million strangers think we are amazing if the people closest to us would beg to differ. God does not care about how many things we achieve, He cares about what we do with what He has given us. People who are looking for worldly recognition will always be after more, but content people will focus on what is in front of them and steward each thing – be it time, finances, talents, a job, or relationships – as though it is of utmost value.
And at the crux of it all is the same issue: do we see ourselves as the center of our lives or God as the center? With ourselves at the center it is easy to grow proud and settle for less than God’s best or to strive for recognition from people. Either way, complacency and striving leave the focus on ourselves. When we are content, though, we put God at the center and trust Him to lead the way for our lives. It’s not about the title or the accolades; it’s about the heart. If we set our hearts on God, He will provide us everything we need – those things we have asked for and those we never knew to ask for. With God in His rightful place at the helm of our lives, we trust His Holy Spirit leading step by step each day. We find true joy simply in knowing that our identity is as His son or daughter. And we live in peaceful contentment knowing that He alone is in control.