Category: Contagious Contentment

The last few years, the Lord has used lessons about submission,
gratitude, and service to deepen and grow my sense of contentment. Those are the first three “building blocks” in this series.

A moving gif of blocks arranges itself into a smiling face.

The final block that completes the foundation for contentment is connection. What do I mean by that? Well, first of all: I mean real, honest, authentic relationships with other believers.I don’t mean the connections you make on social media (for the most part). Oh, I hope that my blog is a source of encouragement and reading it leaves you feeling bolstered. I hope that you have a sense of community in the feeds you follow on Twitter or Instagram. But in general, most of us get comparison —not connection— from our online worlds.

Comparison is a Thief

Comparison only serves to steal your joy and breed discontentment. Comparison leaves you feeling less-than. Comparison prompts you to narrow angry eyes at your stuff, your circumstances, your people, and your place.

Mrs. Potato Head packing Mr. Potato Head's "angry eyes" from Toy Story 2

Don’t pack your angry eyes, friends. Now if it’s true that comparison breeds discontentment, but connection fosters contentment… the question is, why?

Connection Halts Entitlement Thinking

I’d say it’s because living in a real community forces us to let go of pride and entitlement.I’d wager that in many of our lives, discontentment comes from a sense of entitlement. Your human nature tells you:

I deserve better than this.
I deserve better in my relationships – my husband, my kids, my friends… they just don’t appreciate me or treat me right.
I deserve better in my place – this house, this job, this town, this whole state – they aren’t up to my standards!
I deserve better from my stuff – I should really have a better car, fancier sunglasses, nicer shoes, a bigger TV.
I deserve better from my circumstances – I wasn’t made to live like this!

On the other hand, when you spend time and effort connecting with a group of believers, learning together and living out your callings together, you will grow in grace.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Small Groups beat Packed Arenas

There’s a lot to be said about small groups in the Christian life. What I’ve seen in my own experience is that two big things come from connection: accountability and vulnerability.

When you’re accountable to a group of friends, fellow travelers on the journey, you first of all learn to recognize your own shortcomings. You own up to your sins, and your people encourage you in repentance and starting fresh with your eyes back on Christ. Guess what that does for your sense of entitlement? It smashes it WAY down to proper size. Accountability reminds us that we aren’t deserving of any of the blessings in our life – that all we have & do is such a gift. That reorients our hearts away from discontentment.

And secondly, the shared vulnerability of group living helps you to take a turn being the one served by others. (Remember in that last building block, when I talked about how service blesses us and gives us a contentment mindset? Well, here’s where the coin flips sides. Being served by others is sometimes also necessary to help us return to contentment.) There will be times when your connection to others puts them in a position to bless you – with words of encouragement or reproof, with service, with time or resources that meet your needs. In my life, I have always –without exception—found this experience to be both humbling and deeply loving.

Known and Loved

You see, I think human beings have a deep heart cry to be fully known. We want to be seen, and heard, and valued and cherished.The truth is, only God fully knows us right now. The glorious truth is that He knows every bit of us – even the ugly, imperfect, shameful parts – and He loves us anyway.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT

Someday, the Bible promises us, we’ll have complete knowledge. Until then, I believe that connection with other believers is the closest we’ll get on this earth. Connection spurs us toward humility and love, it helps us avoid the comparison trap, and it puts our hearts in the right place.

And that’s the capstone of this little tower of contentment we’ve been building.

A pale blue sky with wisps of clouds is overlaid with text: #ContagiousContentment.

Which part of contentment is the biggest blessing or hardest struggle for you? Comment or tweet at me with #ContagiousContentment.

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We are not alone.

Dear friends, we are not the only ones wondering about how to shed the miasma of discontent. A venerable crew of bloggers have gone before us on this path. And since contentment can be so #contagious, let’s consider what others have learned & shared!

Start everyday by offering praise to the Lord.  Sometimes we can get focused on expressing our needs to God instead of just giving thanks. Find a way to include the entire family in a daily habit of gratitude and cultivating contenment. Use meals times or bedtimes to say and record your blessings as a family.”  ~Denise In Bloom

Sarah Sandel, at Sarah Writes, blogged a 31-day series about A Contented Heart. In her Day 5 post, these words brought me to tears:

“I do not wish to fling platitudes in your face or minimize your pain & weariness. I know this these things, I have felt these things, I have my own shares of not-enough more often than I like. So hear what is True and Good when I say: your feelings are not always accurate indicators of reality. There is a deep truth to contentment in Christ that does not change with your circumstances. “I have learned to be content” does not happen on the mountaintop, but in the low, low valley where Christ becomes all. He does not become all here in that He was not all before, but in the valley we begin to see what always ways, if we will allow Him to reveal it: that Christ Jesus is all, is sufficient, is enough for weary, aching heart and the wounds we are bandaging. He is enough.”

That is a good word, right there. Go read alllllll her entries. Soak it up.

Keri shares one of my favorite Psalms in her reflection on contentment over at Growing In His Glory and then remarks:

We must trust that the Lord will provide exactly what we need, when we need it. Like a baby, we may clamor for more “milk,” but as our souls are sanctified, that rooting will eventually cease. Then, we will become content with whatever the Lord supplies.”


And there are heavy hitters. Nancy Leigh DeMoss, from Revive Our Hearts Ministries has a whole “Cultivating A Contented Heart” series both in print & audio, which you can stream or download.  Ann Voskamp, as you might expect, contributes words of wisdom and grace. Carl Richards weighs in over at The New York Times, and Glennon Doyle Melton pens her insights at the Momastery.

Click a few links this morning and ponder. It’s my prayer that the words of one of these authors will touch your heart and help you catch the germ. Contentment is part of God’s plan for you, and gosh: it just feels really good. It’s delightful to be delighted in whatever life-stage you’re in… with whomever shares your life… at whatever work you are doing… with just the things you already possess.



Are you thinking and writing about contentment? Share your blog post in a comment so we can come and read, or tweet with @MichelleNebel or #contagiouscontentment so we can find each other.

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{Welcome back! Have you read the first few posts in this series? You can get caught up here. Go ahead: I’ll be right here when you get back.}

When I was in 9th grade, I attended a Christian summer camp. It was a formative life experience – not only because I met my dearest friend, Sean (remind me to tell y’all that story sometime) or because I learned awesome songs with killer motions– but because of a camp counselor named Thea.

After I’d gone back home, Thea and I wrote letters for a few months. At some point, I must have been complaining about my miserable, difficult, terrible (no it wasn’t, not at all) life… as 14 year old girls are wont to do. In her return missive, Thea sent me this gem, scrawled in bubbly script with blue ink on college-ruled notebook paper:

Thea Message

Her words have floated before my eyes over and over again throughout the last twenty years. God bless her; she likely didn’t know how deeply she would impact me! It’s just such a valuable truth. We are all, as Christians, told to serve others with love.

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
~Galatians 5:13

As Thea pointed out, when we are actively engaged in helping someone else, our hands and minds are too busy to “feel sorry for ourselves.” In other words, we shrug off the shroud of discontentment when we dig in to do good for another person.

Why might this be? Well, I certainly believe there’s a spiritual component. I believe that God blesses us when we keep His commands, and service is one of the things Jesus taught his followers about more than once. I believe that God desires for His children to be at peace – to be content – and He wants to give us unshakeable peace that isn’t dependent on our circumstances.

”Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 4:6-7

In His wisdom, God built these physical bodies for us, too. Last year, researchers published a neat study demonstrating the link between service and good health. Okay, now, I realize that there are no guarantees in this world – you may volunteer, serving with all your heart, and still get hit by a bus. But I think it’s beautiful that when we help others, the benefit to us isn’t just mental or spiritual; our physical bodies are rejuvenated, too. It’s “good for you” in every sense of the phrase to put your hands to work on behalf of someone else.

I understand WHY I should serve… what I don’t understand is HOW I can serve.
Fair enough, you say. There are lots of good reasons to get involved with service, Michelle, but how exactly am I supposed to do that?


It’s become a bit of a cliché in Christian circles, but this is one overused phrase that really IS A THING. There are seasons in your life when getting involved with service would be the straw that breaks your back. You’re pregnant with a toddler at home? You’re caring for an ill parent or grieving a death in the family? You have little kids and a spouse who works 80-hour weeks? I understand. Oh, sister. I’ve been there. During those times of my life, I wasn’t serving in any recognized, organized way. And y’know what? That is okay. It is alright to make your extended family or your babies or your own sanity your “service” for a little while. Just remember this, friend: seasons change, and when season you currently inhabit begins to wane, take care to stretch your muscles and get back into the swing of service. You will be SO glad, I promise.

In my early 20s, I was a married elementary-school teacher. No kids; medical school husband. We were poor as church-mice, but I had time on my hands. My service in those years was so much fun! I joined United Methodist Women at my church and formed a new “circle” for women my age. I helped with every mission project my Sunday School class and ladies’ Bible study groups dreamed up.

In my later 20s, life shifted. I was a stay-at-home mom to one baby, and my husband was an intern at Vanderbilt. We were new to a very big city, and no lie: that was hard. I attended a little church near our apartment, but I never got involved. No Sunday School, small group, Bible study, or women’s circles. No ways to serve and feel useful. I was barely keeping my head above water that year, and it took me a long time to give myself grace. I eventually remembered that God loved me no matter what – and if all I could manage was to sit in the “cry room” at the back with my baby crawling around eating Goldfish crackers, then He wasn’t up in heaven giving me demerits for lack of service hours. He was LOVING ME right where I was. Same goes for you, sister.

The next change was easier on my heart and my mind. Our move to Northern Kentucky and adding our second baby weren’t as jarring, and the four years of residency gave Chris slightly more family time than intern year had. We joined a church, we met couples and families, we found ways to become a part of the community. I was able to serve as a teacher in Vacation Bible School and help with mission projects once again. And for the first time, I realized that I could teach adults, too. I’ll share more about the group I started there in my next #ContagiousContentment post, but for now I just want to say that if you’ve never explored your spiritual gifts, it’s a great way to figure out what type of service is right for you.

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
~1 Peter 4:10

At this stage (I’m in my early 30s, if you’re keeping track) of life, my service opportunities have blossomed again. With kids who are old enough to be involved in children’s ministry activities (and who don’t go to bed at 6:00 pm anymore!) I’m able to participate in more of the things my church offers. I love helping with the children – filling in as a Sunday School or choir substitute teacher – and I’ve started facilitating our adult Sunday School class, too. We’re in the midst of overhauling our church website and social media presence, so I’ve been able to pitch in and help with photography, copy editing, and Facebook posts.

Whaddaya mean, that’s not service? Sure it is. There’s a need… which lines up with some of my skills and talents… and I said yes.

It really is that simple. Service might mean joining a team at your church (serving meals at a soup kitchen or shelter; driving the bus to pick up kids who need a ride to your location; visiting prisoners in your local jail) but it doesn’t have to look like that. Your service will be unique to you – your “season” in life, your gifts, your personality, your community and its needs.

The challenge for today, then, folks, is to spend some time in prayer. Ask God to help you see where your natural gifts and abilities lie. Where can you put yourself to work? Where can you ease a burden, where can you offer love? Give of yourself – whatever is strong or abundant or unique or awesome about YOU – put that on the table.

I sort of feel like I’m being Captain Obvious again, but I’m going to make sure I state this really plainly. When you find your niche, your special place to serve where you know you’re making a difference, you will find your contentment growing. Thea knew what she was talking about twenty years ago: it’s less likely you’ll be discontented when you’re paying attention to filling the needs of someone else.

How are you serving right now? Or is this “building block” the one you need to add to your tower? I’d love to hear your thoughts! You can also read ahead to building block #4 right here.

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My friend Carla is such a blessing. She’s the first Owensboroan I ever met, and the way we were introduced was such a fun little hug from God. She was the smiling, friendly reassurance that I would “find my tribe” here!  Not only do I love hanging out with her at playdates and small group, but I also love, love, LOVE her online presence. She has “caught” the contentment contagion, and today I’m pleased to have her guest posting here with her thoughts on encouraging our children to have contented hearts!


Michelle challenged me to write a post about contentment to link up to the wonderful series she has going on contentment.  She said she thought it would go well with my year of Embrace as well as my 2,014 Items in 2014 posts.  I heartily accepted the challenge right away knowing exactly which direction I would go with the post.   We’ve been struggling for a few months now with helping Katie feel content with what she has and I’ve sorta been cranky about it lately.  There’s nothing like a blog post to help you sort through your thoughts and help you see a situation from multiple angles.  But before I begin to pick the age appropriate splinter from my daughter’s 4 year old eye, let me work on digging that old plank out of my own!

I held onto a lot of things as a child. I saved every card, letter, school paper, etc.  My closet was piled high with memento tubs.  Surely my children would love to see the “A” I got on a vocabulary quiz in second grade!  I also held very sentimental attachments to certain toys.  I had a pet net and a pet chain decorating my room.  If I ever put one of my favorite dolls on either rather than in my bed with me, I felt the weight of their eyes staring at me in sadness.  I literally couldn’t sleep until I rescued them from their cages.  I identified quite well with sweet Andy at the end of Toy Story 3 and I may or may not have cried when Woody and Buzz watched their owner drive off into the sunset.  To be completely honest, several of the toys we have in the playroom today were mine as a child.  I’m even guilty of gifting vintage Barbies to Katie for Christmas last year!

How appropriate it is, indeed, that my little Katie loves all things Toy Story.  Here we are years later and a new generation is finding all those sweet pieces of childhood difficult to part with.  I’m sure Katie senses pressure to let go of things because I haven’t always been as gentle as I should be about suggesting we let go of a few toys.  I suppose in many ways I’m hoping that we can guide our daughters to be less attached and sentimental to objects than we were as kids.

In an effort to meet Katie where she is and establish some foundation for learning delayed gratification and contentment, we’ve implemented the following strategies (the credit for all of these ideas belongs to people much more creative than me) :


1. Set up a toy rotation

Toy rotations can work in many different ways.  Some people get very creative and have different boxes with different themes of toys to engage their child on different days of the week.  I haven’t put nearly as much effort into it.  We have a red paper box at the top of the play room closet affectionately referred to as the “red box.”  In this box, I will secretly slip toys that I am either annoyed by or notice aren’t being played with as much anymore.  If Katie notices an item is missing she will ask if I can “look for it in the red box.”  If toys are in the red box for several months, I will ask Katie if she’s ready to part ways.  Most of the time the answer is no and the item is suddenly very important again.  But that’s a win-win for inspiring creativity and for giving her something to play with that sorta feels new all over.


2. Start a wish list

Another tool in our kiddie contentment toolbox is the Wish List.  A parenting guru I follow suggests that we acknowledge our children’s desires that cannot be granted through wishes.  Katie interprets that as, let’s add what I want to a literal wish list.  So I have a running Katie Wish List on my phone and she asks me to add items to that list.  It’s really cool that she trusts that I’m keeping a legitimate list considering that she can’t read and basically takes my word for it.  But it also serves to remind me of what to suggest to family when they ask for gift ideas as well as reminding Katie of her outstanding wishes.  Although, she is pretty darn accurate at remembering wishes she’s had on the list for months.


3. Give an allowance

I must give Katie credit for the self-discipline she has shown with the wish list.  She has been content to wait for a highly anticipated item for months as long as it’s on the list.  But over the past couple of months, the wish list began falling out of favor.  So it hit me, or perhaps the Spirit impressed upon me, that Katie could be ready for an allowance.  And let me tell you, this has been A.MA.ZING!!!

Steve and I agreed years ago that we did not want to give our children a performance based allowance, whether chore based or academic based.  We want to give our children a set amount of money (for now $1 a week feels right) and then teach them the fundamentals of financial responsibility.  As the girls get older, I’m sure the amount will increase and the rules may change or even be different for each child.  We already foresee that we may provide additional income opportunities.  For example, Katie has been a big help in babysitting Levi so I’ve been giving her a dollar of my income.  And we may give extra money for non-routine chores such as vacuuming out a vehicle or weeding the flower bed.


4. Model contentment

A huge part of parenting in general is modeling the behavior you desire out of your child.  Modeling contentment is no exception.  How can I suggest that they give away their things or resist the urge to own new things if I am not willing to do the same?  This also makes me realize that I should have an open dialogue with my daughters about why I’m taking a load of items to Goodwill or how giving a bag of clothes we no longer need to someone else is an important task.  Of course, this must be explained with a sense of humility.  Other ways I can model contentment is to not choose window shopping as a regular form of entertainment, not sign up for retail catalogs, nor use internet shopping as a distraction from spending time with my children.  Not that shopping has to be a chore or can’t be enjoyed, but frequently placing ourselves in a situation that tempts us to go against things we stand for is not a positive model.


5. Have an attitude of gratitude

Lately, I’ve been feeling a calling from the Holy Spirit to view life through a lens of gratitude.  If we are grateful for what we have, who we are, and Whose we are, there’s no excuse to be discontent.  I’m realizing this is also something I need to model and discuss with Katie and eventually with Karis.  If they hear me verbalize how grateful I am for the hand me down clothes, the gently used baby equipment (thanks, Michelle, for both!), or the bargain price on an item, they learn that we can be content with what’s placed in front of us.  We don’t always have to go looking for the latest and greatest just because it exists.


Thank you for allowing me to share my ideas on how we can teach contentment to our children.  If you are interested in perusing any of my past or future musings about living out my dream, join me over at Pursuing Prairie!

Carla joins her cousin in blogging about their “journey toward a simpler and more sustainable lifestyle” at Pursuing Prairie.  Carla is a stay at home mom to 2 precious girls, 4 and 1 years of age, Wifey to an amazing husband, and all around jack of all homemaking trades.

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{Welcome! I’m in the midst of a series of posts about contentment. It all started here, and I wrote about the first building block here.}


Have you ever watched a toddler build with wooden blocks?  Left to her own devices, a toddler will probably start by grabbing a couple of blocks, licking them, and banging them together.  When a big person gets involved, he demonstrates this magical property blocks have: stackability! The toddler is amazed! She watches as her sibling or daddy or babysitter stacks one after another, that tower rising further and further into the air… and then she gleefully knocks it over, and starts trying to build her own tower.

Hopefully, friends, this series will work that ‘magic’ for you. Maybe you have one or two of these building blocks laying around already, and you’ve begun to see how they feel in your life. Maybe you haven’t tried stacking them up the way I did. Since you’re not a toddler, I don’t expect that you’re going to come try to kick down MY tower of blocks; but perhaps you’ll consider building your own!

Not long after those lessons in submission, God started showing me how ungrateful I could be sometimes. This wasn’t anything new in my life, I suppose I should admit. As far back as I can remember, say 10 or 11 years old, my daddy used to jokingly call me a Serpent-Toothed Child:

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth
it is to have a thankless child!”
~Shakespeare, King Lear

(You know, for years and years, I thought that was in the Bible? Turns out it’s from the Bard instead.) Nevertheless, when my lack of gratitude reared its ugly head from time to time, showing up as entitlement here and disrespect there, Dad would let me know I was being an “STC.”

Years later, when I was a sophomore in college, my mother sent me a VHS tape of “Madame Blueberry: A Lesson in Thankfulness.” If you haven’t seen it, you can watch a clip at the link, but in short: it’s the tale of a blue (sad) blueberry who is dismayed when she sees all the STUFF she doesn’t have. When she meets a child who is thankful for the simple things in life, Madame B realizes how wrong her priorities were.

My mom knew that, even at 18, I loved those singing vegetables. And she was concerned that I wasn’t always grateful for the life I led. I certainly did have so much for which to be thankful. Her care package was a gentle reminder to take my focus off my {real or imagined} “have-nots” and put my focus back where it belonged.

Gratitude is life-changing. Focus-shifting. Re-centering.

Gratitude Contentment

If you are in the midst of the hardest circumstance of your life, I know that this sounds bonkers. Giving thanks isn’t always easy and sometimes it’s downright counter-intuitive. Trust me, I know. I’ve been given lots of chances to put this one into practice. Cancer battles. Miscarriages. Scary job decisions. Relocations. Losing everything in a fire. Marital trouble. Death of a beloved family member.

So don’t imagine that I’m telling you to “find your gratitude” from inside a pink fairy bubble that floats above the rabble. I’m telling you that it’s possible to find your gratitude – from right here, beside you, with my voice  in the mess.

I’m telling you that if you take the ridiculous, crazy, leap of faith to DECLARE YOUR GRATITUDE in spite of the hubbub around you, then you will discover the deepest, most real, most concrete thankfulness you have ever experienced.

Have you ever experienced a sense of gratitude and contentment that transcended the everyday and felt positively holy?

The birth of a child.
The first declaration of love from your spouse.
The sight of an awe-inspiring view of the creation.

As breath-taking and inspiring as that can be, I’m here to bear witness to you that gratitude borne of sorrow or hardship is even more impactful.

But perhaps you’re reading this from a relatively pain-free place. No illnesses or grief stand in the way, and yet, something about this post resonates with you. Gratefulness, yes. This is what I need. My friend, I hear that too. Your challenge is to find thankfulness in the midst of the mundane.

Your average house and your average car.
Your normal children with their constant needs.
Your tedious jobs and good ol’ familiar spouse.

The temptation in front of so many of us is to allow the daily grind to rub away our sensitivity to the gift and beauty all around us. Not every moment has the grandeur of an ocean sunrise or your child’s first breath, and it’s an easy thing to fall into a trap of lacking in thanks until the Big Things Come Along. We ought to celebrate the big things, certainly – but we also ought to search for gratitude for the little moments – interactions – people – that work together to create our everyday existence.

There are so many resources to help you develop a habit of gratitude. There are books and there are pins; you could write yourself a note on your mirror or stick a Post-It on your coffeepot. You could be mindful of the ACTS acronym during your prayer time (to remember elements of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication when you talk to God). You could institute a time of Thankful Things over the dinner table, or challenge yourself to post things for which you are thankful on Facebook.

And as your gratitude habit grows, so will your sense of contentment.

This one is easier to understand, isn’t it? I know that my thoughts on submission might have sounded crazy in relation to contentment, but I have a feeling we can all agree on this one. It is HARD to feel disgruntled and discontent when you are telling your family members, every contact in your digital universe, and the King of all Creation how much you are already thankful for.

Think of gratitude as a daily vitamin. Thankfulness works as a natural prevention treatment for discontentment.  It’s like an antioxidant – but instead of blocking the oxidation & breakdown of your molecules, it inhibits the decay of your “contentment molecules.” The more you protect them with daily doses of gratitude, the larger and stronger they will grow.

Or to put it another way – the taller you’ll be able to stack that tower of blocks.

Click here for the next block in this series!

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Meet the author


I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!






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