How to be Content in Your Current Season (Even if it's Not the One You Want to be In)
The other day, I drove up about an hour north to visit one of my best friends who just had a baby and to bring her the cooler full of freezer meals our friends made for her. The particular stretch of freeway between my work and my friend’s house is notorious for turning into a parking lot at the commute hour, so I tried to leave a little early, but by the time I was able to pick up the food and get on the road, I still found myself sitting in it.
Down at my right, my phone sat face-up in the cup holder, my Maps app informing me I’d arrive at my destination around 7pm. But as I sat there in bumper-to-bumper, barely moving inches, the minutes on the ETA display crept up…7:07…then 7:15…now 7:26. Staring at the screen, I started to get stressed out, realizing I’d have less and less time for newborn cuddles and catching up with my friend. I tried to just be present and not worry about what time I’d arrive. Simultaneously, I tried to will the traffic away, but there it sat—stubborn as the antsiness rising inside me.
Then suddenly, it hit me: I didn’t need directions to her house—I knew the way by heart. The GPS was doing nothing but stressing me out, and regardless of whether or not I was tracking the minute changes, the reality remained that I was going to get there when I got there. So I turned it off. Without the screen with its red squiggly lines and fickle ETA staring me down, I felt relief. I was free to simply enjoy the drive.
I think at most points in life we all have some destination we want to arrive at, and we feel like we’ll finally be satisfied when we get there.
I remember at Bible study with some friends a while back, I was talking about how I wanted to meet the right guy already. My dating friend shared that she wanted to finally get engaged. My engaged friend across the circle vented about how wedding planning was stressful, and she couldn’t wait for the big day to finally be here. My married friend was tired of going month after month without becoming pregnant. Finally, my married-with-three-kids friend encouraged us not to be so impatient to jump into it all—she wished she had taken more time as a single person to grow on her own.
Isn’t that how it goes?
We all pine after some moment in the future, only to arrive and find it empty.
It just proves the point that the next thing we think will bring us a sense of completion, won’t. Just like the driver’s license I swore would make my life complete at sixteen or the finishing college finals I thought would make me happy, each milestone we arrive at only leads us into the next longing.
I don’t think this means we should give up wanting the things we want, because driver’s licenses, college degrees, marriage, kids—they’re all good desires. It just means we should practice contentment in the interim—which, I think we all know. The problem is, doing so isn’t so cut and dry as turning off the Maps app on our phones. How then, do we practice contentment in our current seasons, even if they aren’t the ones we want to be in? Here’s some ways that have been helping me lately.
TAKE AWAY THE NUMBER
You know—the number. The number of months it was supposed to take for that thing to happen. The number of years old you were supposed to be when that other thing happened. You were supposed to have your stuff figured out or be more successful or get married or have kids by the time you were ___ years old. And now that age is getting closer or maybe it’s already passed and that’s part of why you have a panicky feeling. So take away the number. Take away the time constraint. If you don’t have to be at your destination at a certain time, you won’t get stressed out when the math isn’t adding up on the ETA. You’ll be able to enjoy the drive. So take away the number. Better yet, ask yourself why that number is there. Where did that expectation come from? Did you look ahead at some point in your life at someone who was a certain age and a certain something hadn’t happened yet, and you decided you didn’t want that to be you? Why? This question is an invitation to learn something about yourself, and learning new things about yourself always presents an opportunity to grow.
TAKE A REALISTIC LOOK AHEAD
You know that season you wish you were in? The one that looks all rosy? You know that one thing you want to happen, the one you’re certain you could finally learn to be content after it does? Be realistic about the negatives of that season. There might be certain freedoms you’d no longer have. More responsibilities. Less time. This isn’t a way of trying to appease yourself or psych yourself into being happy where you’re at. It’s also not a way of bashing the reality of those who are already at the place you want to go. It’s simply a way of stopping yourself from romanticizing something by only focusing on its highlights, and being realistic in remembering that ALL seasons hold both good and bad. So take a realistic look ahead. Then while you’re at it, take a look at the positives of the season you’re in now. Human tendency is to think we’ll finally be happy when we get to the season we want to be in, but the reality is, if we can’t appreciate the positives of the season we’re in now, we won’t be able to in the next season, either—instead we’ll be left romanticizing the one after that.
TAKE CONTROL OF WHAT YOU CAN
I think the hardest thing about longing for the next season is that often, it’s outside our control. There’s a deep desire, but in our own power we can’t change circumstances to fulfill it, so we’re left feeling helpless. I’ve found it’s helpful in these scenarios to take control of what you can change. Maybe part of your longing for what’s next is you mistakenly believing that an external change in circumstance will change a shift that really needs to happen internally. I know that’s not all of it—the things we long for are valid. But if we can’t change them, we might as well focus on what we can. Maybe it’s a lifestyle change, or a habit you need to implement, or a step outside your comfort zone to try something new that’s going to mix things up and bring you closer to the person you want to be. Identify those changes, and make them. Take control of what you can. You may not be able to change what’s happening in your life, but you can choose to actively decide who you want to be—and that will move you from feeling helpless, to empowered.
TAKE IT TO GOD
I know, I know. It’s a Christian cliché—but hear me on this, because it’s the most important one. Tim Keller says something along the lines that if we knew what God knew, we would answer our prayers the exact same way He does. C.S. Lewis says, “I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” And you know what? I believe both are true—even though I don’t always see it. Hindsight has a funny way of making me think, Wow, I’m glad this thing didn’t happen yet because I can totally see now how this other thing had to happen first. We have to trust that if we aren’t in the season we long to be in, maybe that season isn’t what’s best for us right now. Maybe God’s still preparing that season and even more likely, maybe He’s still preparing us to receive the immense blessing that season will hold. So take it to God. God is only for your good, and the more you spend time with Him, the more you see His heart and the more you’ll believe it. The more you spend time with God, the more your heart will settle into a place of trust, and the more content you’ll feel.
There you have it, my practices for being content in your current season. But, real talk? I know why people to click on posts with titles like this one, because I know why I’ve done it. You’re looking for hope—for something to speak into the deep longing you feel.
Honestly, if you’re anything like me you may walk away from a post like this one feeling disappointed with its words. Because ultimately, what you were looking for weren’t words at all—at least, not words aimed at helping you accept where you’re at. You were looking for change—for help in getting away from where you’re at. I get it.
Yet the truth remains that we can’t control the timing of the seasons of life we’re in. What we can control is who we allow the seasons we’re in to turn US into. And it’s our approach to the seasons we’d rather not be in especially that does a good deal to determine the types of people we’ll become.
Ironically, not long after I turned off my Maps app the traffic cleared up and I got to go cuddle my friend’s cute newborn. But we aren’t promised the same in life. There’s no magic guarantee that the second we stop obsessing over getting to the next season, it will come. And in reality, contentment isn’t something we arrive at either, but something we continually move toward—something we choose daily.
What I’m trying to say is, know that I don’t write these tips from a place of perfect contentment, having arrived at all the things I want to achieve (I also don’t think that place exists this side of heaven—even the person you think is perfectly content probably isn’t). I don’t write these things detached from the very real longing you might feel right now, I write them because I’m right there in it with you. I write them because these are actual things I do when I’m having a hard time being content in my current season. I write them because they help me inch closer toward contentment, and because I hope they can help you, too.
If the season you're having a hard time finding contentment in is singleness, I have a resource for you—an online devotional for singles! My heart in writing this was to speak the encouragement and truth I myself have needed to hear on the hard days. If you're watching all your friends get married, wondering when it will happen for you, or simply having a hard time trusting God's timing, this devotional is for YOU!