When Special Days Aren’t Special: A Quest for Contentment

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From Christmas and Mother’s Day to birthdays and Valentine’s Day, holidays are romanticized in American culture. Social media makes it easy for us to see all the exciting things our friends are doing and the gifts they are receiving on these special days. But often those days don’t feel very special for us individually. How should we deal with that disappointment?

I’ve had a few of those situations recently, and they aren’t very fun. Often my expectations and desires clash with reality and leave me feeling blue, inadequate, and frustrated. 

It is important to realize that the desire for ceremony and celebration is a good thing. God created us with the capacity to appreciate beautiful events. He designed us with a desire to feel significant. It is not wrong to acknowledge these things. The problem arises when we allow our expectations and personal preferences to lead us to be discontent in the blessings He has given us or in the people with which He has gifted us. Many times, this is a temptation in the days around a special occasion in the calendar year.

What can we do when a “special” day leaves us feeling less than special? How can we overcome depressive thinking and get our emotions back on positive ground? Here are five things that help me to correct my thinking and manage my emotions. 

Ditch Comparison

Comparison is entirely too easy. Perhaps you are sitting in church and hear a beautiful voice behind you. Instantly you wish you could sing like that. Or maybe you drop by a friend’s house and immediately feel like your house is worn-out and unattractive compared to theirs.

Social media exacerbates comparison, too. It is often alarming how quickly one can go from enjoying and admiring another’s blessings—candid family shots, lovely gifts and cards, exciting “couple” trips, and beautiful domestic skills—to being tempted to comparison and self-pity, even envy, because of these very things.

The problem, however, is that we are comparing pieces of life without taking into account the whole, or as one explanation goes, comparing snapshots of others’ outside lives with our own internal lives. That’s not, as the saying goes, comparing apples and apples. In the controlled environment of social media, we see what others want us to see—what they are allowing us to see. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since none of us would be comfortable sharing all the details of our private lives, nor should we be. But we must keep in mind that the outside view is not really the sum total of that person or their life. Just like you and me, she has a rich internal world that is much less obvious and seldom shared. 

You know your own private world—the questions, the frustrations, the disappointments, the fears, the struggles, the hurts, the difficult memories, the weariness. She has that too, but you just don’t see it. She may rarely “post” or talk about it. 

We assume those carefully curated glimpses of joy and good times are similar to the whole life she leads. Of course, that is not true for anyone.

So, it is important to realize that comparing our actual lives with the imagined life of someone else is not on an equal footing. Such comparison is dangerous and dispiriting. Jill Hubbard cautions against “falling into the trap of comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides.” In reality, you are not comparing the same “worlds.” 

Get Rest

At times, comparison is made worse by physical exhaustion. When we are sleep-deprived, every difficulty seems worse and every irritation becomes magnified. This is true of our internal battle with comparison. 

Have you ever just wanted the day to end? To be able to sleep away your troubles and awake to a new day? Rest is restorative, even if it is not an uninterrupted night of sleep. Rest gives us fresh energy and a renewed hold on emotional balance that is helpful in realizing the folly of our comparisons. 

On my rough days, I am particularly thankful for God’s never-ending mercies. Lamentations 2:22-23 is encouraging: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” 

Ask God to help you rest in His mercy and compassion and look forward to a new beginning tomorrow, leaving behind the disappointments of today.

Speak Truth

It is helpful for me to ask myself a few questions that help me get to what is really true. 

  • Do I have a home and a bed? 
  • Do I have food on the table? 
  • Do I have friends and family? 
  • Do I have a relationship with God?

These are the things that really matter. These solid facts are my reality, and they must form the foundation of my contentment. Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 that food and clothing are basic components of a Christian’s thankfulness: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”

Often, we are tempted to vague discontentment, even though what others are receiving may not appeal to us personally. Just the idea that others are being celebrated or blessed when we are not can create a cancer that spreads in our souls and attitudes. In these moments, we must choose to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15) rather than allow their good gifts to create resentment in us. We must speak truth to ourselves to counteract Satan’s lie that more is better. 

Count Blessings

Being reminded to count our blessings is nothing new. We’ve likely been reminded to do this over and over. However, reviewing our blessings is a great way to shift our attention away from our disappointments and back onto Jesus. 

For the last few years, I’ve kept a monthly prayer list. Each time there is an improvement or positive ending to the prayer need, I update it with the word “praise” in a prominent location. Sometimes when I am too burdened to pray through all the difficulties, I will focus on all the praises from the last few months. And even when we cannot see what God is doing, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

Thanksgiving can even be a family activity. Occasionally, my family plays a thankful game around the dinner table. The first person says, “I am thankful for…” and states something for which he or she is thankful. The next person must say what the first person was thankful for and add his or her own blessing. And so it goes around and around the table as we add to the list. This practice helps to turn our focus from our frustrations and disappointments toward remembering the things that matter the most. 

Philippians 4:8-9 reminds us to realign our focus on the good gifts God has given us:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Remembering this truth assists us in restoring peace and right thinking in our minds. 

Affirm Worth

Sometimes on rough days I am tempted to think that I am somehow less than all the other people who post enviable pictures on social media. Is that true, though? Is my worth based on what I receive?

Though we know the answer in our heads, we wrestle to fully embrace it with our hearts. We think things like,

  • “Why did I only get a card for my birthday? Don’t I matter to anyone?”
  • “My spouse and kids didn’t get me anything for Mother’s Day, and I still had to cook all the meals. I must not be worth much to them.”
  • “I try to make special days special for my family. Why don’t they reciprocate?”
  • “What’s up with all the school teachers receiving praise and gifts? Don’t I count for anything as a homeschooling mom of many?”

Those types of thoughts about worth come unbidden to our minds, but it takes deliberate effort to rid ourselves of them. We must remind ourselves that our true worth is found in what God thinks of us. 

  • God will not forget us: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).
  • God made us wonderfully unique: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:13-14).
  • God places high value on us: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, deven the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
  • God displays his handiwork in each of us: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Make Today Different

Managing our tendency to discontentment is a lifelong process because we are continually aware of what we observe around us. It is not something that can be eradicated but something which must be continually surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. As we make the intentional choice to rely on the good care of our Father, we can experience ongoing contentment even when others receive blessings we do not. 

So, on those days that are supposed to be special but simply don’t feel that way, remember these five things:

  1. Comparison is a trap. Resist it.
  2. God’s mercies are new every morning.
  3. Remember what really matters.
  4. Count your blessings.
  5. Your worth is not based on temporal things.

Now, get some rest for your body and soul. Tomorrow is a new day to practice focusing on the Giver of perfect gifts.

Michelle Witt
Michelle Witt holds a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from MidAmerica Nazarene University. A homeschooling mother of four, Michelle and her husband live and work at God’s Bible School and College in Cincinnati, OH.