As we are reaching the end of 2016, many of us are checking our goal lists and looking forward to the new year with a sense of excitement. New year! New goals! New resolutions to set for ourselves! New projects and relationships and opportunities! There are also those of us who are looking back on the year with a sense of discontent. We are confronted by the things we wanted but did not get, and face starting a new year still in want of those heartfelt desires. Every cloud has a silver lining, though. This discontent serves as a motivator. It pushes us to take on that project, or sign up for that course, or launch that business, or ask that guy to coffee. The ache of want brings a determination to lean into the things that can be achieved by hard work and dedication and faith in ourselves and the process.
Unfortunately, there is also a cloud. There are things in this world we desire that we simply cannot achieve on our own. It is when we are confronted by those things that a distracting desperation sets in, and a longing to fight for the thing so worth fighting for, if only we knew how. I think it is because we do not know how to fight that sadness really makes itself at home. Our unmet wants are a day to day reminder that not everything is in our control. We lash out by trying to control the things we can: people, relationships, food, wardrobe, schedule.
Once upon a time, for me and my husband, this attempt to control led us to undergo fertility treatments with a dismally low expectation of success. Even though we knew we had little hope of the treatment being successful, it still made sense to us. We went into it saying, “We’ll regret it if we don’t at least try!” But really, what we were saying was, “We can make this work because we’re the ones in control now!” We had the illusion of control, and when it did not work, it shook us.
Our unmet wants are a day to day reminder that not everything is in our control. We lash out by trying to control the things we can: people, relationships, food, wardrobe, schedule.
Our childlessness pushed us to replace our contentedness in our present with our desire for the idea of what life could be like after we got the thing we wanted. The failed fertility treatments were a wake up call. We turned our focus inward, to our thought life and our heart position, and the desperation was joined by guilt and disappointment in ourselves for wanting a thing that was not meant for us in this season, or at all. We came to a crossroads. We could not go on feeling guilty and disappointed and wanting. Something had to change. We all reach this crossroads. Whether it is the dream job or the spouse or the children - we all have these moments where we are confronted by the choice to live in desperate want or live in contentment with the present. I’m convinced the way to move on from this crossroads is by engaging in a simple practice: gratitude.
At my moments of deepest longing and sadness, gratitude blew in like a fresh wind. In the season of mourning our childlessness, gratitude allowed me to see there was something good and unique for us. Once we decided to look to the things we have instead of the things we lack, and engaged in this discipline regularly, our lives began to look different. Conversations that used to revolve around the unfairness of it all were transformed. Our tone was no longer hurt and confused, but joyful. The desire to have children did not go away, it simply took its proper place in our hearts. It became secondary to what was meant for us, and we strangely began to take joy in our childlessness because it represented the unique stamp of the Almighty on our lives. This can happen for all of us. Whether we are striving to do the work we feel we are born to do, or find the spouse that will be our partner and supporter, or have the children that will bring us joy and make the world a better place, we must remember to keep these wants in their place. When the desire for what we would like to have supplants the happiness we feel to simply be alive and thriving and working and striving for good, we begin to lose our joy for our own story.
You may never get what you want. Gratefulness brings with it the perspective that what we want may never bring us contentment anyway. There is no guarantee that once you have what you wanted you will be any happier than you were before. Gratefulness is a discipline.
I have a coworker who never gives a quick answer when asked how he is doing. He says, “It is well with my soul.” Every time. And every time he stops and considers the question before he answers, as if he has to check in first with an internal contentment gauge. The answer is always the same, but he keeps it that way by being mindful of it. We can be honestly grateful and content, but we must work for it by reminding ourselves at every opportunity.
So this is the secret to getting what you want - want what you have. We should never stop looking to the future and examining our hearts for our good desires. We should never stop striving to create good relationships and things and communities. But in the midst of this, always remember the act of letting go of the things we cannot control and embracing gratefulness for our unique story will allow us to say about our own lives, “It is well with my soul.”