Living in the Tension Between Contentment and Wanting More

“I’m truly grateful for what I have. So why am I longing for more in my life?”

I hear this guilt-filled dilemma often . This month I’ve heard it from my entrepreneur besties, clients, ministry leaders and other mamas. It’s a limiting belief, but it feels like a dilemma because we feel ashamed, like there’s something wrong with us for feeling unsatisfied with what we have.

If you’re like me, you’ve grown up with the message from all sides to be content. Be grateful. Be joyful in everything. Don’t complain. Along the way, somehow that translated into: Don’t want anything more than what you have. Striving for success in more than one area is bad — especially if it means making more money. If you achieve more, do better, thrive more than your peers, you have selfish ambition and that’s bad. As a 1 on the Enneagram, my deep driving desire is goodness. So feeling like what I genuinely desire might be bad and not understanding how to reconcile being content yet longing for more would shut me down inside.

To find release, I had to approach it from a perspective of trust. If I have been created by a Being who is loving, creative, and generous beyond what we can fathom, what would it mean if I’m stacked with more potential than I could know what to do with? That realization became a responsibility and an invitation to dare to explore my potential, instead of disciplining myself to stay within what I perceived was my bounds.

Maybe you’ve fully given yourself to one role — and you’re amazing at it — children’s pastor, worship leader, mom, friend, caregiver, a job you’ve held loyally for years despite the opposition, a brand you’ve worked hard to establish, or a business idea you’ve invested thousands of hours and finances in.

You’re so thankful for it. You honestly are.

Yet secretly you’re heart is longing for more.

To try a new role.

To be given a chance to thrive in something totally different than what everyone else says is logical.

You aren’t ready to let go of the other role and all you’ve invested in it.

You just want permission to explore. You need to know it’s okay to desire more, to somehow find rest and delight in this weird tension of gratitude and longing.

It’s okay to have permission to feel both, but how adopting some practical ways to create space to handle each well — the present roles and the longing for the next thing?

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Here are some ideas I gleaned this week from conversations and Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face. None of which are probably new to you, but today might be the day you need the simple reminder:

  • Take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Then do it again. There’s no panic to solve it right now. Breathing reminds your mind and body to be okay with this tension for now.
  • Write a list of your fears and guilt. Often our fears and guilt box us in. Staring point blank at your secret thoughts in black and white has a way of engaging your rational mind and gut-brain in an emotional conversation. Of course, you don’t stay there or you’ll sink in the quicksand of shame. Instead, choose one you’re going to reverse, renounce, replace with grace — or to get fed up enough you chose an action to defy it.
  • Journal. Mind map. Write a stream of consciousness. Do something to get all those surface thoughts out so you can uncover what you’re really desiring and feeling. Just find a safe space to be honest with yourself. Because MORE means moving forward, and you can only move forward from where you are.
  • Change things up to invite a fresh perspective. Do something different or daring — spark adventure outside your normal environment. Get out of the house when winter, sickness or long day job hours cage you indoors.
  • Spend time with people who have different problems (or solutions) that the ones you normally spend time with. Sometimes we don’t realize how narrow we see the world until we’re around new dynamics.
  • Revisit the last thing you started but never finished. It could be a project that got interrupted, a coaching action step you abandoned, creativity that got blocked. Facing a fear, finding a creative outcome, or just plain finishing something just might give you the spark you need.
  • Choose one thing on your to-do list and let the rest go. Maybe it’s tackling the laundry and being okay with the rest of the unkempt house. Maybe it’s getting down on the floor with your child to play and finishing your work project later. Use this small everyday moment to practice the grace to appreciate the present while being okay with the tension tugging you to tackle what’s waiting.
  • Write a gratitude list specifically about your longings. Instead of just being content with what you already have, how are these desires stirring in you a good thing?

Contentment is not sentencing you to a life of mediocrity. Nor does she want to be the excuse you use to neglect to discover fresh avenues of joy. Instead, she brings transcendent peace from which you can feel ready to spread your wings, owning the potential that is yours to own, nothing more, nothing less.

I‘m a mom, purpose coach and author of Dare to Decide: Discovering Peace, Clarity and Courage at Life’s Crossroads (July 2020).

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