The Wedding Day That Could Have Been
Posted on March 14th, 2011
The slug line under the header of the full-page ad read, “See it. Love it. Buy it.” I flipped through the pages of $800 heels and $250 bangles in my sister’s most recent edition of InStyle. True, I loved what I saw, but I certainly wasn’t going to spend a month’s salary on a pair of snakeskin shoes. I set the magazine down, but couldn’t help thinking that the advertisement’s call to action was persuasive. Anyone with the money and frivolity available to them could be unconsciously convinced.
Our culture advertises to us 24/7. Television and radio commercials, billboards, cereal boxes, newspapers, magazines, fliers, and websites form a constant barrage of material promises. Our money is desired, our attention sought after, and our time beleaguered with decisions. But the key to good advertising is to convince the viewer that he has an unsatisfied need – and that your product can satisfy that need. In essence, advertising appeals to discontent.
My working definition of discontent is “the confusion of wants with needs.” When we convince ourselves that what we desire is necessary to our lives, our attitude toward those wants changes. We begin to feel entitled, as if we deserve to enjoy privileges. We lose our sense of gratitude. It is my firm belief that once gratitude is lost, this sense of entitlement has the power to destroy not only our contentment but our attitudes, our relationships, and our financial situation. The reason lies in that sudden twist of thinking:
I deserve to be treated better at work, so I’ll show the boss who’s who.
I deserve to be in a relationship. This stupid town doesn’t have any prospects.
I deserve to have this dress and that car, and I can take out another credit card to cover it.
Ingratitude deceives the mind. Confusion that began with wants escalates to a confusion of who God is in the life of a believer: self, or Jesus Christ? Mixing the two into a lukewarm potion, many believers poison themselves into a walking dead, believing the truth but living according to their own desires. I’ve been one of them myself.
Discontent is a hot topic with me because it robbed me of many good years of my teenage life. More appropriately, I robbed myself of those years by attempting to combine commitment to God with allegiance to self. The more time spent thinking about what we don’t have leaves us that much more ineffective in using what we do have for God. Gratitude takes action. Discontent is just spiritual navel-gazing, and I did plenty of that.
Originally this piece was meant for Valentine’s Day. On that day I gave the following testimony to a group of high school girls and boys as an illustration of what discontent can do. I share it here as well, hoping the Latitude family can glean some good from my transparency:
In high school I was a pathetically hopeless romantic, feeding on Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, escaping reality in a world of daydreams and idealistic hopes. From age fifteen, my sole desire was to have a boyfriend, despite my commitment not to date in high school. I never intended to rebel; I just couldn’t wait to turn eighteen and meet the man of my dreams.
I graduated and moved on. God worked in my heart and began to mature my thinking, but that seed of discontent still remained as my friends developed relationships around me. Why am I still single? I wondered (at the ripe old age of 18). I couldn’t wait to go to college and meet my imagined Mr. Wonderful.
College just increased my despair. It seemed everyone was paired off or had potential to do so. I knew a lot of guys, but none that could move beyond friendship. I didn’t develop friendships with guys very well because I always saw them, unconsciously, as “prospects.” The idol of discontent had shaped my thinking, my ideas, my dreams, and my personality and I wasn’t even aware of it.
After college I left for New Mexico, and there it was that I was emotionally broadsided by a very wonderful young man. As we got to know each other I found that I liked him very much, and the feeling was mutual. He was tall and handsome, kind, listened to me, shared my interests, and finally called my dad when the time came that he asked permission to be my boyfriend. It seemed my dream had come true.
But the idealism of my past rose up quickly, and had been at work all along. Rather than develop a friendship where we really knew each other, we discovered too late that there were major points of disagreement between us on subjects that were tantamount to our relationship’s success. So to the pain of his heart, and thus the pain of mine, we broke it off – Valentine’s Day weekend was the projected date of our wedding.
It takes two to ruin a relationship, and while both he and I could speak for what the other did “wrong,” I will be the first to recognize my own fault in the situation. My eager desire to satisfy a perceived need without patiently waiting on God led to breaking the heart of another person, and hurting my own in the process.
I have learned from that experience. The power of discontent is strong but deceitful. It creeps in casually, settling down in our unguarded hearts in the name of hope and achievement. If we listen only to that voice, we will soon be seeking after our own kingdoms rather than God’s. How do we beat the system?
It’s actually very simple. The best way to keep discontent at bay is to cultivate gratitude. A grateful heart is happy with what God has given, without the desire for more unless God gives again. The purest desires will still be there, but these are surrendered to God’s control and timing. Gratitude has faith that God knows best what a heart can handle, and that He will see us through.
Do I wish the wedding had happened? Sometimes. Perhaps I would be as close to God as I currently am even if I had stayed in the relationship. But there’s a good chance my idol of a relationship, my unreasonable expectations on one poor man, and the blindness of discontent would have continued on into a marriage, where much more difficult lessons would have had to be learned. God works all things for good. And I am grateful for that.