Contentment in Motherhood

Stomach bugs. Hitting. Biting. Lice. Bed-wetting. Tantrums. Sleepless nights. Exhausting days.

You’re a mom. You’ve faced all of this and much more.  Each day you wake up with a plan, only to find your efforts dismantled before you’ve even finished your first cup of coffee. Like a rudderless boat tossed back and forth on the waves, our days rarely go the way we hope. With so many ups and downs, plans made and plans delayed, how do we learn the secret of contentment in the season of motherhood? Is it even possible?

The short answer? Yes, I believe it is possible. This season has been my spiritual classroom in contentment over the past 17 years. Perhaps the better question is, “How do we learn contentment in the season of motherhood? But first, it’s important to get our heads wrapped around a different question: What do we even mean when we talk about contentment?

What is Contentment?

Often, I picture contentment being a moment of stillness when everything surrounding me is calm and peaceful. Beds are made, dishes are done, children are napping, and I’m sitting on a cool porch in the sunlight with a hot cup of tea. It sounds lovely, right? In this situation, I’m hoping for outward peace in my circumstances to work inward peace in my soul. Honestly, if this is our image of contentment, we might want to put our hopes on hold and consider contentment something we’ll find after everyone goes to college.

However, Christian contentment works in the opposite direction. The definition I like to use is this one:

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Christian contentment is an inward assurance in God’s sovereignty and goodness that produces the fruit of joy and peace and thanksgiving in the life of a believer, regardless of outward circumstances.

Notice the difference—Christian contentment begins inward and is independent of daily events and circumstances. Its source is God’s character and his plan, not our own. It’s rooted in the belief that God is working all things for our greatest good—fashioning and shaping us into the image of Jesus. This belief allows us to view every tantrum and trial as a means by which God is at work in us, not just us at work in our child.

However, in this season of motherhood, I’ve often found myself looking much more like a two-year old, demanding my own way and settling into a fixed pout when God doesn’t give me what I want. Thankfully, the Lord is a patient parent, willing to keep working on my heart until I learn the lesson he wants to teach me.

How Do We Get Contentment?

I’m always encouraged when I read Paul’s words to the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for 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.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11-13)

Contentment isn’t something that descended upon Paul the moment he came to faith. He learned it. That means there’s hope for you and me to learn it too!

When we learn something new, it’s uncomfortable. We usually feel like we’ll never get it. That’s normal. I used to tell my math students their discomfort was a sign of growth. It meant they were pushing their minds to understand something more deeply than they had before—they were learning.

The same is true of contentment. Our unwanted circumstances push us to trust and believe in God. When our day is interrupted by a child’s itchy scalp turning into hours and hours of lice removal, we’re forced to lean into what we believe about God in new ways. In these moments, we can “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstance” only because we believe, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[1] Our circumstances are the classroom in which we learn contentment. And, most days, it’s not an easy lesson.

What is the Source of Our Contentment?

Now, before you begin pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and deciding to grit your teeth and bear whatever your facing today, there’s another reason I’m encouraged by Paul’s words to the Philippians. Yes, he learned contentment (so there’s hope we can learn it too), but he didn’t do it in his own strength. It was Christ’s strength that worked contentment in Paul—not his own grit and determination. 

How do we take hold of Christ’s strength? He tells us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We need time with Jesus each day because without him, we’re powerless. He’s the source of strength we need and the refreshment we seek. Time in God’s word doesn’t earn his favor, but it reminds us that we are highly favored. Time in God’s word doesn’t earn his forgiveness, but it reminds us that we’re freely forgiven. Time in God’s word doesn’t earn his love, but it reminds us that we’re eternally, extravagantly, unconditionally loved.

Our days are filled with so many words of advice. We desperately need the truth of God’s word to remind us of the good news of the gospel. Through Christ we’re empowered to rejoice in the goodness of our God even when our circumstances don’t offer many reasons for rejoicing. No matter what happens in our day, our soul is secure in Christ, our eternal inheritance kept in heaven.

Today, God is at work in every detail of your day. He never forgets you and he always sees you. Take your worries and concerns, hopes and dreams to him. Trust in him, rest in him—as the Psalmist says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

[1] I Thess. 5:16-18


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Melissa Kruger currently serves on staff as Women's Ministry Coordinator at Uptown Church in Charlotte, NC, and as an editor for The Gospel Coalition. She enjoys teaching women in her church and at conferences around the country. The author of In All Things: A Nine-Week Devotional Bible Study on Unshakeable Joy, Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood and The Envy of Eve, she regularly writes articles for the Gospel Coalition, Ligonier Ministry's TableTalk magazine, and enCourage, a blog of the Presbyterian Church in America. Her most cherished roles include being a wife to Mike, president and New Testament Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary-Charlotte, and a mother to her three children.