What We Get Wrong About Contentment

How to thrive while you're waiting.

BY HANNAH ELLENWOOD LIFE September 08, 2017

“How are you doing with that, Han?”

I’ve been asked this question several times a week by deeply caring friends and family who recognize that this season might be a difficult one for me. And here’s what they’re referring to: In the past year and a half both of my siblings started dating people. Both of them are with people who love them well and who bring out the best in them. People they are planning a future with. That leaves me—the oldest—as the only single one in our family.

I even promised my best friend that if I wasn’t dating by the time I turned 25, I’d sign up for the Bachelor.  All this for the sake of finding love. But this season has actually been marked by something really different for me: deep contentment. And I don’t throw those words around lightly.

What do I mean by contentment? That I don’t wait to live my life or commit to a home or community until I am married. What if that isn’t what God has for me in my life? The last thing I would want is to put my life on hold and wait around to make decisions or really settle into a place as if my life now was a means to that end. My life now is not defined by the could be’s of the future. It is defined by the people, the places, and the work God has called me to commit to and be faithful to in this very moment.

So I live now. I am a complete person now because of Christ’s finished work on the cross and work in me. Being in a relationship doesn’t make me more or less complete than I am right now, right here. But it’s taken some work to get here.

As I’ve spent time thinking through my journey to contentment, I’ve been able to articulate the practices that I believe have led me here. My hope is that, if singleness is something you find yourself dissatisfied with, you will know you’re not alone, and find some hope and encouragement in these practical ways of moving forward.

I want to be clear: Contentment is not the opposite of desire.

In other words, I don’t believe we need to suppress desire in order to find contentment. My desire for relationship with someone extraordinary has not gone away. It is a God-given desire and it is good. Just not when it consumes us.

If we’re honest, it doesn’t feel good to be consumed by it. Because that only leads to disappointment and dissatisfaction. The truth is that I can live with both contentment and desire as simultaneous realities because I have learned to abide in Christ. And that has, ultimately, changed my whole perspective of how I live my life in the present.

This list isn’t the end-all be-all when it comes to living well in singleness. And the reality is that there are days it just doesn’t feel that way. Days where it feels like your heart physically aches as that desire goes unfulfilled. Ultimately, I would hope that these practices would lead your heart to deep contentment that remains even on the harder days.

GRIEVE

Acknowledge the expectations you’ve had and give yourself space to grieve the death of them. If I’m being honest, as much as I trust God with my life and know I can’t see the future or control my circumstances, I also feel the reality that my life has played out very differently than I thought it would.

The expectations I lived with, especially in this area, were informed and formed by certain liturgies. These liturgies are rituals or practices that, whether we are aware or not, shape our love and our idea of “the good life.” For me those were movies, some of my favorite songs, the relationship culture of the university I went to. Even the age my parents were married shaped what I thought the “right age” should be.

So, when I hit that age and wasn’t anywhere close—I felt like I was way behind. Like I had lost. I needed to recognize that my expectations had not come to fruition and give myself permission to grieve the loss of that expected “life.”

As a sub point to this one, I believe it is super important to take an inventory of the liturgies we are immersed in. I’ve had to take an honest look at what rival visions of “the good life” or “flourishing” have captivated my love and desires and what cultural acts of worship are shaping and competing for my heart. None of of these things are necessarily bad, but they do shape and impact my heart. This helps me grieve and move on with greater hope.

LIVE

Live your best life now.

Your best life doesn’t come when everything you’ve ever wanted comes true—when you have that perfect body, the apartment of your Pinterest dreams or that blingy ring on your finger. You can live it here and now.

And when you really enjoy and live a full life instead of desperately trying to grasp and control your circumstances and turn them in your favor, people are attracted to that. There is a sense of life-giving joy, winsome confidence and calm about a person who loves the life they are living.

When we truly live and are doing the things we feel like we were made for, where we give of ourselves freely and lavishly—it is in those places that we can then see who is doing those things alongside us. And who knows what could happen?

INVEST

Use this time to learn and practice being in real community—not as a means to marriage, not for the sake of marriage, but for the sake of community. Be committed to the holiness of your friends. Come alongside them and love them when they are unlovable.

Practice engaging in hard conversations with grace and with truth. Practice hospitality and open up your life and home to others. It is also a good time to invest in yourself. You want to be wise with your resources, but proactively leave your comfort zone, take yourself on trips, get a gym membership, eat healthy, take a cooking class and start crossing things off your bucket list.

Do things that refresh and restore you and that make you feel excited about life.

DATE

Go on dates. Take courage and ask a girl out. Say yes to the guy you may not have said yes to before. Tell your friends you’re open to being set up. Go out and meet new people. Take the pressure off of yourself to find your life partner. Practice dating without evaluating or coming to conclusions about whether or not you could marry this person on the first date.

Simply ask yourself: “Based on what I know now, do I want to know more?” View this time as an opportunity to learn about yourself and about others. What are you attracted or not attracted to? What do you have to offer someone in a relationship? How are your communications skills? What patterns do you notice in yourself in the process of dating—are they healthy?

And here’s the kicker: If you meet someone incredible along the way, step out of your comfort zone and take a risk in moving toward relationship. It’s OK to do that. Even if you don’t have everything figured out or have your life perfectly in order. No one has their life figured out. No one is perfect. Don’t let fear of _______ keep you from moving into another season of growth and learning.

ABIDE

Most importantly, I have found that the key to true contentment is learning to abide in Christ.

Our hearts are going to be dissatisfied and restless until we look to the only One who can give us true rest and ask Him to fill us in a way only He can. In order to abide, we need to know the One we are abiding in.

These past few months, I have been very intentional about spending time getting to know who God is. I practice taking Him at His word and resting in that, instead of grasping and controlling. And here’s the thing: I didn’t always have a desire to know Him this deeply. Most days, I just wished He would give me what I wanted. But I wanted to have that desire … so I prayed for it.

And He gave me a deeper desire for Himself.

As I’ve become more familiar with God and His character, I trust Him more fully with my life. I trust His timing. I trust in His sovereignty. And I don’t feel like I have to try and put myself in situations where I will meet someone or make myself seen.

When I trust God with my life and act in obedience to Him, I live at the center of His will. And that puts me in the best possible position to meet someone. But more importantly the best possible position to live well, serve well and love well.

As I’ve practiced all of these things I have found deep contentment. And yes, there are days that it feels harder to watch everyone around me get engaged, get married and start picking out baby clothes and posting all of it on social media. And those are the days that I just need to unplug, be present and enjoy my life for exactly what it is, where it is and with whom it is. Because that is what is real, and that is the life I’ve been given to make the most of and be faithful with.

Here’s to all the single people out there who love their life now and can still belt “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” at a karaoke bar.

HANNAH ELLENWOOD

is a global citizen - born in the Northwoods of America, raised in the heart of Europe and currently living in Chicago, IL. Her upbringing in international ministry and career in marketing and branding has equipped her with a lifetime of intercultural fluency, driven her to be a learner of people and their stories, and built a passion for helping people and organizations discover their unique purpose.

CURRENT ISSUE

685 Shares
Share685
+1
Tweet
Share
Email