Blankets wadded up on my bed, stray granola bar wrappers on my dresser, an untouched agenda hiding under a pile of clothes on the floor. That’s my life right now; chaos, stress, trashy. But it’s real, it’s me. (Is it normal that Mitchie from Camp Rock is coming to my mind right now?)
I itched to come back to my university the weeks leading up to the start of school, and returning truly has been a joy through catching up with friends and continuing studies, which I enjoy oh-so much. But at the same time, coming back means overstimulation with the sheer amount of work, pressure and interaction each day. My heart longs for peace, but from where? I can’t point to it anywhere on a map; I know that place doesn’t even exist.
After spending an adventure of a summer in France, I appreciated my time abroad but also ached to return home to see my family and friends again. But even when I returned home, that feeling didn’t vanish. As much as I love my childhood home, each visit back creates a desire to be back at my university. It’s a constant tug-of-war with no winner or end in sight. That’s why I’m starting this mini series called Challenge & Choice. Life throws us lots of curve balls, but we can choose to learn through these and not let them dictate our existence.
The moment I reach stress, I begin to wish, wish away my current circumstances. If I had less homework. If I had another hour of sleep. If my best friend were here. If I were in a relationship. If I had a hug from my mom. If I were more talented. If I were back in France. The common thread? Unreality.
At the end of the day, it just simply isn’t so. How is it possible to not be content in France, one of the most beautiful countries in the world with incredible food and sights? I even stayed at a castle for a long weekend! At my childhood home, my family and familiarity surround me, but my heart longs for my university town. Even back at college, life rages on—truly. If I haven’t seen a close friend in two days, someone is bound to have changed her major, met the love of her life, gone vegan or adopted a cat. The lack of constancy and contentedness is exhausting.
Coming back to Mid-Missouri after several months in France, I’ve realized a thing or two. As exhilarating as it is to travel across the world, as comforting as it is to have our loved ones near us, as fulfilling as it is to pursue our passions, contentedness is more about choice than it is place, people or purpose.
We choose to be grateful for past experiences.
Much discontentedness stems from wishing to teleport to a different time or place from the past. As elated as I was to leave high school, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish to be back with my best friend, Riley. But our career paths put hundreds of miles between us, and I haven’t seen her in person for months. But as much as I miss our three-hour long dates at Steak ’n Shake or life talks in the car, I know we’re both where we need to be. I choose to be grateful for the seemingly limitless time we had together in high school. I choose to appreciate the friendship we still maintain through weekend trips and weekly FaceTime chats.
Long days in a cubicle may make us crave that glorious vacation on the beach. In this we choose to appreciate the blissful rest. Heaps of homework may make us crave the simpler life we lived during a study abroad experience. Despite stress, we choose to value the lessons we learned.
We choose to focus on what we do have, not on desires.
When you find yourself stressed, stop and assess. When a gal pal checks in with me and asks me why I’m stressed, it’s often: I have so much to get done. This person is being unreasonable. I wish this relationship looked different. The common thread? Again, unreality. Desires are fine and dandy until they dictate our quality of life. The desires for less stress, better communication and a relationship are all valid, but when it consumes the majority of our thought life, we sell out for unfulfilling life. In these moments I choose not to disregard the hard stuff but to be grateful for the good stuff.
In the desire for friendship, I remind myself of the few gal pals and my faith community. In the desire to be known, I remind myself of phone calls home with my family. In the desire for relationship, I choose to be grateful for this season of life with its flexibility and freedom. In the desire for less stress, I choose to be grateful for my education and the passion that’s fueling my time here.
The bottom line is we choose. Once we snag that promotion, we see another position to which we can aspire. Once we find relationship, life introduces new problems. Once we finish an assignment, another comes around. There is no end in sight; this cycle of yearning continue forever. But thanks to the freedom of choice, we don’t have to stay in a discontented state. Together we choose gratitude even when life is “uncomfy” or unideal.
Challenge: Write down three things you’re thankful for each day for the next week.