Tonight I walked into the movie theater a confident and content single woman. Two hours later, I walked out of the theater feeling lonely, slightly less content, and somewhat unattractive. Now you’re probably thinking that the movie I saw was a chick flick, and that I felt this way because I spent all that time watching a drop-dead gorgeous actress get swept off her feet by the man of her dreams, thus causing me to compare myself to her in every way, and falling miserably short. This is not, however, the case. (although that has been known to happen before…) Instead, the movie that I saw was Ocean’s 13, which is by no means a movie about romance. It’s about a group of men who rig a casino to ruin its owner. Not exactly a plot designed to make you swoon. Why, then, did this movie cause me to lose some of my confidence and contentment?
The reason is that during those two hours, I spent the whole time falling in love with devastatingly attractive men who are brilliant, funny, focused, strong, loyal and amazing dressers. The movie is designed to make every guy want to be like them, and every girl want to date them. And I took the bait, hook, line and sinker. As the movie came to a close and Brad Pitt flashed one last electric smile, I found myself going weak in the knees. I was ready to marry that guy.
Unfortunately, as I walked back out of the theater I had a startling realization–I don’t know any guys like that. And even if I did, they are certainly not lining up to date me. That is when the disappointment set in. As I drove home I began to feel more and more discontent with the life I have now and the guys I am friends with because they’re simply not that charming, perfect, or well-dressed, always knowing when to say the right thing at the right time. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve even met anyone like that in my life. So I spent the rest of the night feeling a little sorry for myself, and a little less satisfied with the life I had been so happy with earlier that day.
I think this happens a lot to women. One minute, we are completely content with the life that we have. But then something catches our eye, causes us to believe the grass is greener on the other side, and suddenly our happy lives seem mundane and unacceptable. This not only happens after watching movies that sell us an impossible standard for love and for the opposite sex, but it happens every time we slip into thinking we need a better version of life than the one God has given us. Another frequent source of this thinking comes from dating relationships. The times at which I have had the hardest time being single have been immediately following a broken relationship. Prior to the relationship, I was generally happy with my single life, but then a guy comes along and you get used to being a couple, having someone to do things with, and plan things with. You have a future together, and you have dreams. So when that relationship ends, you have to readjust to being alone again, and compared to the starry-eyed, love-struck feeling of being someone’s girlfriend, the single life just doesn’t seem as good anymore. You want your future back, the one you were supposed to have…not this second-rate one you’ve been stuck with.
For me, this lack of contentment is a great indicator as to where my happiness truly lies. We want to echo Paul’s sentiment that he is content in *all* circumstances, but oftentimes we are merely pretending to be content. By that I mean that it’s not enough to convince yourself you are content. You need to know if you are content for the right reason. Oftentimes our contenment does not come from resting in Christ, but rather by justifying our lives to ourselves. This justification frequently manifests itself in the form of comparison with others: “I’m happy being single because it means I’m not making myself vulnerable to others,” or “I’m happy being single because my married friends are so annoyingly exclusive that I would never want to be like that” or “I’m happy being married because at least I’m not single.” If we can just find a way to prove that our lives are better than those around us, then we can be content with just about anything.
But that is not true contentment, and the false nature of that feigned contentment will shine through when something better comes along. For instance, you might say you’re single and content, but then a guy starts pursuing you who you probably shouldn’t be dating, and because the prospect of being in a relationship seems much better, you date him anyway. Or perhaps if you go to the movies and soak in visions of a more glamorous, romantic life, then your single lifestyle suddenly seems less satisfying. And if you’re married, you might meet a man who seems to understand you better than your husband, who better fits that picture of a husband you always had for yourself.
This can play out In other ways as well. The job you have may seem great until you talk to your friend who’s making six figures doing what they love. Or the church you attend may seem wonderful until someone brags about how much their church is growing or how awesome the music is. In all of these situations, the contentment we thought that we had is revealed to be based upon circumstances, rather than Christ. As long as Christ is not the source of your contentment, then you will never be fully content if someone has a better life than you do, so contentment will forever elude you.
So as much as it stinks to feel slightly mopey after watching Ocean’s 13, my emotional response is a great heart check, because it reveals the source of my true contentment. Clearly, it is not Christ, or at least not fully. But it is also a reminder to invest in the life I already have. There is no perfect person, marriage, job, etc., so we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we would be happy “if only…” As a friend of mine says, the grass isn’t greener on the other side; the grass is greener where you fertilize and water it. If we work hard on the life we have been given instead of pining away after an unrealistic dream, then our contentment will truly take root. But it is definitely something we must work for daily, if not fight for.