My senior year of high school, I started a countdown on my wall. I tired of high school—tired of my friends, tired of my mediocre public school, tired of my $6/hour job scooping ice cream, tired of my life in the town where I had lived for the past seventeen and a half years. I dreamed about what kind of person I would be in college and somehow imagined myself being better looking, having a magnetic personality, dating attractive college guys, and going on lots of exciting adventures.
Needless to say, things didn’t happen exactly the way I hoped. I spent most of freshmen year frantically writing research papers, dealing with friend drama at home, struggling with depression, and listening to angry punk rock bands with my door closed. It was like high school all over again except I was a year older, 200 miles from home, and tired of bad college food.
Three years later, I was ready to graduate. I imagined what kind of life I would have when I had a paying job, a more permanent place to live, and enough time to sleep and eat meals again. I imagined myself living somewhere more exciting than my Indiana college town, driving a Mini Cooper, and having a more active social life.
Once again, I was disappointed. After graduation I found myself living with my parents, struggling to make friends back in my hometown, and stammering my way through a never-ending series of job interviews.
It’s difficult to stop thinking about what’s next and imagining myself someday having whatever it is I don’t have now—whether it’s steady income or a smaller dress size or a relationship. Like chasing the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, real life can never measure up to what I’ve imagined.
So, I’m calling myself out. I’m tired of thinking this way. I’m tired of holding my life to an impossible standard. I’m tired of making plans that just don’t work out. I’m tired of always looking ahead to what’s next and missing everything around me right now.
Somebody told me once that discontentment isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, wanting something more can help us to shape our lives right now. It can call us to action to bring about real change. Discontentment causes us to leave bad relationships, to travel, to pursue new careers, to work towards social change.
But we’re not always able to get the job we want, to date the person we want to date, to meet our financial goals, to move to the place we really want to live. When we feel powerless to change our lives in a radical way right now, it’s easy to see our lives as a waiting period, a season to live through on the way to something better. Philippians chapter 4 begins to sound like a holy guilt trip when Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11, ESV) We tend to talk a lot about sitting around and “being content” without taking any concrete action to help ourselves.
A year ago, I made a “Positive Doing” list. I was tired of trying to will myself to think more positive thoughts, so I decided to guide my thoughts with my actions. I may not be able to go on vacation, but I can take a day trip to the beach, so it went on my list. I may not be able to make a perfect guy appear out of thin air, but I can take myself out for coffee and a good book at my favorite coffee shop, so that too went on my list. I may not be able to completely change careers right now, but I can block out time in my life for pursuing other interests.
As I checked off concrete actions on my list, my tired, worn-out, discontent heart began to heal.
So if you’re in a season of waiting, if you’re discontent, if you feel like your life is in a holding-pattern, I would like to encourage you to join me in my pursuit of real, lasting contentment. Let’s slow down, to make small changes, and to look for the blessings all around us right now, whatever season we’re in.
One day, may we wake up and discover that this is real life. These are the days we’ve been given, and we don’t have to wait for the stars to align before we start to truly live. Today, we have everything we need.
If you know someone who is struggling with discontentment, will you email them this post to encourage them?