Early in my post-college life, I experienced a season of intense depression and anxiety. Something I found helpful during that time was acknowledging how my emotions were tied to my surroundings and circumstances. It’s not wrong to not want to feel depressed or anxious, but I found it helpful to make peace with my life in such a way that I didn’t become more depressed and anxious by being aware that I was depressed and anxious … if that makes sense. It was helpful to understand that I wasn’t crazy; my emotions weren’t at war with my reality (which is sometimes not the case for those who need professional and/or medical help).
A big characteristic of that season of life was discontentment. Though I was living in idyllic Orange County, Calif., I didn’t know who I was outside of college or as a newlywed. I couldn’t get a job. I didn’t have any friends whom I saw on a daily basis. I had no routine or normalcy. In that season, it made sense to feel depressed and anxious. I didn’t feel like I had an identity or purpose. Those things would eventually come, but the season preceding their unfolding was incredibly hard. As I sit here on this snowy morning in Rockford, my mind goes back to that time.
‘Why do we live here?’
Most Rockfordians are familiar with the itch of discontentment that creeps in once the holidays are over. This itch tells you to buy a plane ticket, move, redecorate so you might enjoy being stuck indoors more, get a spray tan, go on a crash diet, etc., etc. All those little things that might offer us escape or a temporary serotonin boost to get us through the day.
Do I miss being able to sit outside in the warm grass? Yes. Do I wish I could take a long walk outside in shorts (without risking frostbite, I should clarify, because the option is technically there)? Yes.
Because I desire those things, does that mean I need to find a way to get them now? No.
The heart behind discontentment
There are two big ways my heart rebels against contentment: 1) by wanting something right now that it’s not time to have, and 2) by wanting two contrasting things at the same time (“having it all”).
Our bodies were made to crave the sun and warmth and green grass, but God ordained the winter, too. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…” This is the season of longing for the sun. You’d be crazy if you didn’t miss it, even a little bit. But though I miss it, I don’t need to buy a ticket somewhere warmer to get it right now. We have the sure hope of summer. We know it’s coming. What if I let that future hope help me make peace with the snow I see today rather than driving me to escape it?
I recall a rather disappointing trip to a pumpkin patch during that post-college season in Orange County. I was sweating in my sweater while trying to have a picturesque fall moment in a “pumpkin patch” (read: dusty dirt patch next to a parking lot). At that moment, I wished I was somewhere colder. Today, I wish I was somewhere warmer. The reality is, you either live where it’s warm and plan trips to the cold, or you live where it’s cold and plan trips to the warmth. Maybe you’re one of the rare few who has gotten to live somewhere that scratches both of these itches at the same time. You can pause here to pat yourself on the back, friend, and send me a postcard later.
Some words on cake
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” the saying goes. I’ve learned that oftentimes we can have our cake, but we need to wait six months to eat it. Or five years or 10 years or 50, depending on what our “cake” is.
What cake are you craving today? Summer? A fuller bank account? More free time or more sleep? Children or a spouse? More friends? A healthier body or better marriage?
Whatever it may be, perhaps you can find contentment today by asking yourself: “Am I wanting something it’s not time for me to have today but I will have someday?” or “Am I wanting two contrasting things at the same time?”
If you answered yes to the first question, stay the course. Your “summer” is coming, in one way or another.
If you answered yes to the second question, ask if there’s something you need to sacrifice, give up or change today to make what you really want your reality. Or maybe you simply need to do the hard work of making peace with your surroundings and circumstances.
Our eternal hope
As we stomp through the muck of discontentment that longs to pull our hearts and minds down into a pit, I am reminded of our eternal battle for hope. We will not experience complete satisfaction in this life. We are not meant to have it all. If we do, we’re probably missing something we’re not even aware of.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” – John 14:1–4 (NIV)
Just as the sure hope of the seasons eventually changing to summer gives me peace and contentment on this winter day, the sure hope of eternity with my loving Creator gives me peace and contentment in every season of life here on earth.
I don’t know much about what eternity will be like. Maybe there will be spaces of perfect summer and also perfect winter. But I do know we will experience complete contentment in the presence of our loving Heavenly Father. And that’s what I want more of in my life today.
I don’t just want more or less sun. I want more contentment that can only be found in God’s presence—exactly where we are meant to be.
Feature image by Jim Killam (Rock Cut State Park).