starving, yet satisfied

My favorite part of everything I do is what I learn along the way. So it’s a little weird to me that it took me so long to realize that I’m not an entrepreneur… I’m not a blogger… I’m not an artist… I’m not even a writer or photographer.

I’m a student. And these other things I’ve dabbled in, pursued, or wildly loved have all been means to my favorite end, which is learning.

Maybe I didn’t notice this sooner because out of all my adult siblings, I have the least formal education. I have two brothers with four-year degrees and my sister is going for her PhD to be a mathematician. I, on the other hand, went to one year of Bible school and have half an associate’s degree. But I’ve never stopped learning, because the world is my classroom, and though I’m never going to be a rich CEO or a starving artist, I am always going to be a student of God and life.

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The whole city holds so much to learn!

When I went to Israel last month, I was reminded how much I hate the act of traveling. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but I really don’t enjoy packing, flying, living out of a suitcase, getting on and off a bus, or sleeping in hotel beds. That stuff does not excite me - it stresses me out.

But I was also reminded how much I absolutely love to soak up the immense learning opportunity of being in a foreign land.

I love to see unfamiliar sights, hear unfamiliar voices, smell unfamiliar scents. Travel, to me, is the most saturated and all-encompassing form of learning available. You can’t travel and not learn - that would be like plunging into a lake and not getting wet. The learning material is all around you. Every breath is a lesson. Your comfort zone, where you already know what you need to know and feel confident enough to get by, is miles and miles away.

Couple that with the fact that we chose a study tour of Israel rather than a “vacation” - consisting heavily of sound Bible teaching and incredible archaeological sites - and the trip felt, to me, like coming to a rich oasis of as much learning as I could consume, as quickly as I could take it in. Even now, weeks later, I still feel full and satisfied - and also, somehow, starving for more.

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

My sister took this picture of me editing the Bible study curriculum I’m currently working on. :)

I think I’m finally coming to terms with the idea that for me, success (or perhaps a better word is “satisfaction”) is found in learning. For a good chunk of my life, success could only be measured by getting an A on a test or by making someone else happy (and I definitely still have residual perfectionism and people pleasing that I deal with on a daily basis); for a lot of the people around me, success seems to somehow relate to money, milestones, or prestige (and I’ve often fallen prey to thinking that’s where I need to find my satisfaction, too). But deep down I know that God made me a learner, and that when I’m learning (or helping others learn, which is a learning experience all its own) I’m becoming more like the person He intends me to be. That’s not very glamorous, and it doesn’t help me figure out an answer for my most-hated question (“So, what do you do?”), but it is good.

It’s why I still love photography, after thirteen years behind a camera. Every time I shoot, I learn something new about how to capture truth, how to find light, or how to express the beauty I’m seeing with my own creative eye.

It’s why I love to write and have never given up blogging, even when I could count my readership on two hands. Writing is how I process information so that I don’t just hear something new and then forget it - I learn something new and understand it.

And it’s why I chose Bible school instead of traditional college, and still love to study and teach the Bible. I know I’ll never close that Book and say, “Okay, I’m done. I’ve learned it all.” Ironically, I feel the most satisfied in this life when I’m hungriest for more than just this life. My God is a fathomless mystery, and I’m pretty delighted that I get an eternity to learn from Him.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42


Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

biblical vocabulary: contentment

I’m not sure if this is anyone’s favorite word. I once attended a women’s retreat where the keynote was centered entirely around this concept, and I must admit it was some of the sharpest conviction I’ve ever experienced. To this day, it’s a word that inspires a little bit of a cringe in me, and it’s something I think most of us try not to think about too much. But what is it?

What is “contentment”? What does the Bible say it is?

This is our fourth lesson in the Biblical Vocabulary series. If you haven’t yet, pause for a moment to read up on faith, joy, and worship, because they’ll all play a role in our understanding of contentment.

What is contentment?

The dictionary definition of contentment is straightforward:

“The state of being satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.”

Now you understand why this word stings the conscience a bit. I don’t know when I last met someone I could freely describe as “contented,” and I certainly don’t think I’ve ever met a contented version of myself.

For all secular intents and purposes, this definition of contentment is pretty good. But there’s one very important thing it’s missing if we want to develop a truly Biblical understanding of what it means to be content, so our next stop needs to be the Bible itself.

But I rejoiced greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

Philippians 4:10-14

We all know at least one verse in this passage: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Without its context, this verse becomes a mantra for athletes and a slogan for bumper stickers, but it gains a whole new power when we realize this isn’t about what we can achieve, or reaching for the stars. It’s about what we can be satisfied with - even if we never touch the stars.

Notice Paul’s situation as he writes these words to the Philippians. They’ve sent him a gift, something to help sustain him as he continues in the work of ministry, and he rejoices in their care for him. But he does not need their care for him in order to be content. He doesn’t covet their resources; he’s not driven to steal or con his way to accessing them. If God provides through the Philippians, Paul rejoices - and if He does not, Paul is content. It’s nothing about Paul’s circumstances, relationships, or potential that give him this power and freedom; it’s Christ alone (which should sound familiar to you if you studied the definition of joy with us!).

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” I am satisfied because Christ is my satisfaction and sustenance.

The dictionary told us that to be content is to be “satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.” The Bible tells us that the only way this state of being is possible, especially when we are truly “suffering need” as Paul said, is to be entirely dependent on Christ.

That’s the piece that our dictionary definition is missing.

We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.”

Contentment is born of surrender.

Biblical contentment is not just about being okay with it if we never get that new car or nicer house or better job. Like faith and joy and worship, true contentment is not a feeling; it is an action, a surrender, a way of living. We can be content even when we lack basic needs and wants because contentment is a theological acknowledgement statement that “God has done right.” It is rooted in the absolute dependence and surrender that can only come from trusting that God is who He says He is: good, sovereign, loving, personally invested in our lives, our provider.

“I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” That is, I have learned how to acknowledge, in every situation, that God has done right by me. Even in my times of need, I have more than I could possibly deserve. I have a relationship with the living God! And because of who He is, I can remain strong and satisfied in that truth, regardless of my circumstances.

There’s one more important thing I hope you see before we leave this discussion of contentment: Contentment can’t exist without an established foundation of faith (seeing things the way God says they are instead of how my eyes see them) and joy (the resolute assurance that God knows and cares about the details of my life). If my perspective is small and fearful, and I perceive God to be cold and distant, I will never be able to submit my heart to the truth that God has done right. I will always notice what I’m missing out on and become embittered toward God for seeming to not care about my needs. Eventually, this will lead me toward the three core sins of discontentment: covetousness, theft, and disregard for God’s Sabbath (see Exodus 16).

Faith, joy, and contentment are some of the key fruits of a life that is learning who God is and allowing His character to define reality. If you’re not there yet - maybe you don’t really know who God is, or you think you do but He doesn’t seem like someone who would inspire faith, joy, and contentment at all (you are not alone!) - I can only encourage you to spend time in His Word, where He reveals who He really is through the narratives, laws, poems, and prophecies of the Scriptures.

The Bible is a big book. If you need help tackling it or knowing where to begin, I’m leading a challenge to read through the Bible in 180 days again starting January 1 - I’d love to have you join us! You can learn more here.