Has anybody else been focusing on contentment and finding themselves in a holy wrestling match just to feel like they are keeping their head above water? Anyone? Well, I can raise my hand with an emphatic yes in response to that question — and I have some stories to share that will hopefully encourage you to fight for the contentment that will make your life a better space. More on that next week, but in the meantime…

Did you read this blog post title and think I was talking about “crushing” contentment in the gnarly, surfer-dude hanging ten good kind of crushing, or were you leaning towards thinking contentment was getting squashed like a beach ball under a school bus?

Turns out it can go either way. Seriously, one word can help you find a fantastic sense of peace and contentment inside your relationships. And that same word can be the death of all things happy in those exact same relationships.

So what’s the one word?


Years ago, when the Hubs and I were in the midst of soaking up the wisdom of some of our pastors in premarital counseling, we discussed the power of expectations. I tried to put a mental bookmark on that word, to look for it and think about it, and from time to time it has come to the forefront of my mind again: the issue here is expectations.

But a recent explanation in a sermon by Andy Stanley brought my understanding of expectations in relationships to a new level of insight.

Stanley pointed out the very simple idea that we come into any relationship (especially marriage) with often unexpressed, but still very real, expectations of the other person. We might expect our husband to take out the trash. We might expect our wife to have a hot meal on the table at six pm sharp. That’s what your Dad did. This is what your Mom did. Simply put, things we’ve seen and experienced have created expectations.

In our nature as fallen human beings, there is always going to be a gap between our expectations and our actual lived experience. You were expecting him to naturally remember and always notice that the trash needed to be taken out without you having to ask. But in your experience, he never takes the trash out without you asking, and it makes you feel like a nag to ask. So instead you take out the trash yourself while feeling frustrated and disappointed that he didn’t notice and take it out for you.

In that gap between expectations and experience lies the area that you have control over. And here are your options:

Option A is to assume that your expectations are completely realistic, and assume the worst. He sees the trash and doesn’t want to do it. The jerk.

Option B is to choose to carefully manage your expectations and believe the best. He is very busy and things are weighing on him at work. He probably hasn’t thrown anything away and didn’t even notice the trash at all.

Are these words from 1 Corinthians 13 familiar to you? Perhaps if you’ve ever attended a wedding…

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

When we choose the most generous explanation possible for the difference between our expectations and our actual experience, we choose to give life to our own souls, and to the souls of the people we are in a relationships with. 

And that life-giving choice paves the way for a road contentment can travel on. When we are not suspecting, assuming and waiting for those we care about to fail us and mess up, we naturally behave differently toward them. And we feel differently about them, and about our relationships with them.

Whether you’re wondering why that friend didn’t invite you to that thing at that place, or you’re still wondering why that husband didn’t take out the trash again (Y’all this really is not a problem at the Collie house… it’s just such a great example! Hero Hubs is on it!) you will find life and joy and peace when you choose to “believe all things” — to believe the best possible explanation.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life. {Prov. 4:23}

What’s amazing about this principle is that it absolutely applies to our relationship with God. When you start guarding your heart and thinking about what you are choosing to believe, what thoughts you are allowing to become expectations, everything changes. What do you believe when things happen to you that are different from your expectations? Are you generous toward God in your heart?

When you pray and it doesn’t work out how you asked, or when you hoped and things happened differently, or when you were just trying to get through the morning and it felt like the world had gone mad because someone forgot to flush the toilet and someone else dropped a beloved toy into that non-flushed toilet and you got the toy out and put it in an empty yogurt tub of hot soapy water and the baby walked by and decided to pull that tub of water down for an early baptism while two other kids fought over who sat in your lap while you read a devotional to them on the couch? Not that I speak from personal experience about such things. What will you choose to believe?

Remember again what Paul wrote:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. {Phil 4:11-12}

Paul could be content whether abased or abounding because He believed in a God — as He wrote to the Romans — who could cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him.

If we believe that Truth — if it is our realest and truest expectation of God — our perception of every single circumstance, from car accidents to potty training incidents, from a careless word here to a cancer diagnosis there, all of it can become an opportunity for us to trust that we will see His goodness and be a part of extending His glory.

This Truth does not belittle the very hard things that we walk through in this world. Rather, it dignifies them — saying that they are not the hapless and careless change of a cosmic Big Bang or a god sitting on Olympus and toying with mankind. This Truth says God is very near, and we believe the very best about Him: He is real, and He is good. And in His all-powerful goodness, He can work all things out for our good and His glory.

For better or for worse, my friends, expectations will crush contentment. Guard them. Ponder them. Carefully choose what will you believe. And on a hope and a prayer, you will learn to crush contentment. In the hang-ten, gnarly kind of way, of course.