March 4, 2011


"there are two ways of being unhappy; not getting what you want and getting what you want." unknown

it was 7th grade. i had moved to alabama and was just beginning to work through my eliza thornberry/eunice from "she's the man" stage of life. my only comfort was that even though i had to wear my braces and glasses during the day, i only had to wear my headgear at night.

all that being said, i wanted to be popular. i needed to be popular as a last chance for hope, and so i developed a crush on the most popular boy in my grade: a starter on the basketball team and everyone's favorite class clown. i daydreamed constantly about how my whole world would change if he would just ask me out. i envisioned myself becoming a cheerleader and cheering him on in games, going to movies with him and all of his friends, and best of all, wearing a ballgown to homecoming only to sit on uncomfortable bleachers with him and spill nacho cheese on my dress.

and one day, as if by magic, as i was sitting in mr. layman's physical science class, i felt a tap on my arm and found a perfectly folded note by my side. i paused for a moment of silence, realizing that my dream could in fact become a reality in a mere 5 minutes. and there it was, amidst the talk about all of the motorcycles he had recently witnessed driving on the trail of tears and about how he really hoped he passed 7th grade physical science. there it was: "charissa, i like you. will you be my girlfriend?"
and do you have any question of what i did? i responded with a "yes" that filled the remainder of the page. i felt butterflies in my stomach and felt myself radiating with excitement as the realization swept over me: i was his girlfriend. he was my boyfriend. my whole world was about to change. i was about to receive a whole new identity. a brand new me. a whole new way of life.

but as the day began to pass, i started to notice a few things. as happy as i was, i didn't really feel any different than usual. i wasn't any prettier, sweeter, or better than before. middle school girls were still mean. middle school boys were still smelly. the cafeteria food was still questionable. and i realized that despite the excitement, this universe-shattering event was simply not shattering my universe.

i had gotten exactly what i wanted. exactly what i had dreamed of and hoped for. it was a scene straight from a movie: the cute-in-that-nerdy-kind-of-way girl dates the star basketball player to become the head cheerleader and live happily ever after. yet i realized that in my hopes of getting what i wanted, i had created a fictional fairytale that was just that: fiction. and i learned that having a boyfriend to wave to across the cafeteria, to run into in the hallway only to say a quick "hi" and immediately blush and run, and, as my dad liked to call it, to "go out" with but not go anywhere, well, it wasn't what i wanted.

so the very next day, not even a full 24 hours after accepting my new title, i went from being beloved girlfriend to heartless heartbreaker. i remember staying up that night until the late hour of 10:00 to write a full page letter saying things like "it's not you, it's me" and "i'm just not at that place in my life right now." well, of course i wasn't, i was 12!

it was my first confrontation with the question, "i just got exactly what i want, why am i not happy?" the same question that i was confronted with when i finally did become a cheerleader. when i finally got my first boyfriend that i'd keep longer than a day. when i finally got whatever title i was going for or became whatever person i so wanted to be. and i continued to wonder that question until i was introduced to a brand new thought:

"happiness is not having what you want. it is wanting what you have." or as the apostle paul put it, being content regardless of the situation.

now in grad school, i see the same concept on a regular basis. i see a guy chase after a girl for months wanting to date her, only to dump her just 2 weeks after she said she'd give it a try. i see a girl idealize a guy, putting him on a perfect pedestal and making him into the dream of what she's always wanted, only to be disappointed when the guy proves to be just that, a guy, and the dream proves to be just a dream.

i see individuals finally get their ideal jobs after years of education only to leave them once they discover they weren't everything they wanted. i see marriages fail once one or both people decide they don't want to make it work. and i see countless good things go to waste when we decide that those good things are no longer worth wanting.

we are constantly searching for what will make us happy, for what we want: no more braces. no more glasses. no more 5 extra pounds. no more high school. no more college. no more career that we no longer like. that new look. that new friend. that new job. that new relationship. that new toy. that new gadget. that new car. that new house. that new life. only to discover the question, "i just got exactly what i want, why am i not happy?"

and we fail to realize that it's truly not getting what we want that will make us happy but being content with exactly what we have. if we're single, it means basking in the love of those all around us instead of focusing on the one type of love that we don't have. if we're working, it means making the best out of a tough job situation and maybe even discovering that we kind of like it. if we're married, it means honoring and adoring that other person who decided that we were worthy of his or her forever and not looking for ideal and unreal comparisons that that person will simply never meet.

it is my prayer that we can all see the beauty, love, and happiness in what we currently have, not in some dream of what we want. and that at the end of the day we can say with paul in philippians 4:11-13, "i am not saying this because i am in need, for i have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. i know what it is to be in need, and i know what it is to have plenty. i have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. i can do all this through HIM who gives me strength."

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