365 Happy Things, Books, Choose Joy, Gratitude & Contentment

Book Review: Learning Contentment by Nancy Wilson

I recently read Nancy Wilson’s newest book, Learning Contentment, fully expecting to be simultaneously encouraged and challenged. What I did not expect was to be deeply convicted of the lingering discontent that I have been allowing to grow over time in my own heart. You see, I have previously read a few Puritan works on contentment (including some of the same works that Nancy references in this book) and found them very helpful and convicting. So, naturally, I thought I had a fairly good handle on this particular Christian virtue. I was wrong. This little book revealed many areas in my life in which I am deeply discontent. Thankfully, it also provided practical, straightforward instruction on what to do about that discontent.

Nancy takes the wisdom of the Puritans on this topic (preachers such as Jeremiah Burroughs, Samuel Rutherford, and Thomas Watson) and condenses it down into an accessible, easy-to-read, no-nonsense guide to true contentment for modern-day Christian women.  The message of this book is clear: Christians are required to be content. Why? Because discontent is a grievous sin. The good news is that lasting contentment is not outside of our control. Rather, with God’s help, contentment is truly within the reach of every Christian.

The first word of the book’s short title, Learning Contentment, is key. It goes without saying that we all would like to be content. Given the choice, of course we would all prefer to be happy with our situation and sail, relatively unscathed and unruffled, through life’s troubles. “Wouldn’t that be nice?” we think, while deep down we don’t actually believe that contentment is a choice available to us. We think of contentment as some elusive state that only a few Christians are fortunate enough to achieve . . . mostly those few Christians who have it easy already. Surely not people like me with real, actual troubles, right? Have you seen my run-down, shabby car? Do you know what my health has been like recently? Have you any idea how long I’ve been hoping and praying for a house/child/job/spouse/etc.? Surely contentment is not required of me, right here, where I find myself right now!

Nancy opens her book by firmly correcting this misconception:

“We often think contentment is something that happens to us, rather than something that we take pains to learn. We assume that if we are not naturally disposed to be that way, then it’s fine to have a fiery temper or a sharp tongue. We make excuses for our behavior. . . But this is false: Each of us can learn contentment, and each of us should learn contentment. It is an important part of our Christian life. It is not optional.”

And what exactly is this contentment that every Christian is required to learn? I personally love Jeremiah Burroughs’ definition, found in his excellent treatise The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment:

“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal.”

In Learning Contentment, Nancy gives us a pocket-sized definition, passed down to her by her mother-in-law, that covers the same territory in fewer than half the words: “Contentment is a deep satisfaction with the will of God.”

In the following chapters, Nancy gives us a crash course in the discipline of Christian contentment: how to imitate our heavenly Father in His example of contentment (perfect, yet not perfectionistic); what contentment is NOT (i.e. it is not stoic or unfeeling); and the promises of God, which are the only reliable foundation upon which our contentment can rest. One of the things I love about Nancy’s writings is that she doesn’t flinch when giving us the plain, hard facts, yet never comes across as shrill or harsh. Like a mother patiently yet firmly instructing her wayward child, every hard word springs from a deep love for her children and a desire to see them reap the blessings of holiness. Consider her words on the effects of discontent in the life of a Christian:

“Discontent is ugly and it uglifies. It never makes you feel better, it never makes the situation better, and it never edifies the hearers. It refuses to be thankful, it picks at faults, and worst of all, it is a grievous sin against a holy God.”

And we all wince and whisper a collective “Ouch.”

Painful words, but true words.

Hard words, but words that are intended to soften our stony hearts.

I am grateful for writers like Nancy Wilson who are not afraid to tell us the uncomfortable truths about the uglifying effects of sin in our lives.

But Nancy doesn’t leave us feeling helpless to overcome the ugliness that is discontent. True to the title of the book, she gives her readers practical instruction and strategies for battling discontent:

“One of the central ways we can resist mental temptations, including the temptation to be discontent, is to pay attention to what we are thinking about . . . Our minds drift all the day long, and we tend to be easily carried along to where ever they might take us. But left to themselves, thoughts often go dumpster diving, digging through fleshly things, carnal things, earthly things, untrue, ignoble, unjust, impure, unlovely, and unkind things. The dumpster is always full of this stuff: your own past sins and failures, the sins of others, bitterness, worries, and lusts. And then we wonder why we are discontent, worried, envious, lustful, bitter, anxious, or fearful.”

So helpful, so practical, so basic. This is the kind of straightforward teaching Christian women need in this era of soft, ego-stroking words. Nancy knows this and is not afraid to speak the plain truth in love to her readers. I am thankful for women like her and for this book. It should be required reading for every Christian woman.

~ Cassandra Marie

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“Learning Contentment” by Nancy Wilson (Kindle version)

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