By Jennifer Kinney
Life is full of pain and dissatisfaction, and we live in a society that tells us pain and dissatisfaction are bad. We try to make ourselves feel better with clothes, books, drinks, habits, and addictions. People, companies, and industries are making millions by feeding our sense of dissatisfaction and then selling us the “cure.”
At one time, I craved the cure above all else.
I had just moved back to the United States from an overseas assignment when I hit my lowest point. I was a fairly new mom to twin toddlers and found myself living through a home renovation that spanned years. I was spread thin and struggling with dissatisfaction on every level.
When the going got tough, though, I had a comfort fix at the ready. If it had been a rough night with multiple twilight visits from my children, I would march myself into a Starbucks the next day. If it had been particularly horrible, the drink was bigger and sweeter than usual.
If I’d had a bad day, the kids were fighting too much, or the world at large seemed ugly, I knew the perfect restaurant with just the right dish to indulge in. When I was feeling worn thin and feeling generally ill-suited for human interaction, cue a big bowl of popcorn, Call the Midwife, and my favorite pair of yoga pants.
I had skillfully mastered softening the stress of life with a host of different comfort fixes, and most days they worked. Most days, I was able to eke out some amount of relief. But on some days, days when I realized I was using external elements and idols to quell my uneasy spirit, nothing made me feel better.
We are surrounded by a well-executed marketing force that tells us we don’t need to struggle, that we shouldn’t feel discomfort, and that a more comfortable and convenient existence is only the next great thing away. It’s almost impossible not to get duped into accepting the world’s counterfeit concepts of comfort. But when we do, we risk becoming numb—to people who are hurting and alone, to the needy, to injustice, and to the voice of God.
What if we took the dissatisfaction we feel in life, our marriages and friendships, our work and households, and instead of trying to cope or run away, we faced it head-on and used it as a tool for change? What might happen if we took our fingers out of our ears, turned around, looked it square in the eyes, and asked it what it wants?
Dissatisfaction is an integral component of our humanity, and the world desperately needs us to tune in to it. Accepting the invitation will almost certainly lead us into a deeper honesty and deeper relationships with friends, family, and our communities. It can alert us to injustice and lead us to give generously and without judgment, listen where we would have otherwise ignored, embrace where we would have recoiled, and live more vulnerably where we would have been more closed off.
This is where dissatisfaction can be good, even holy. It can be a tool God uses in our lives to cause us to pause, reflect, wrestle, and perhaps even change course. It can be an invitation to vulnerability, growth, healing, and movement toward purpose, should we choose to accept it.
It took me a long time to realize dissatisfaction itself wasn’t my problem. When I changed my perspective and was willing to sit with my discomfort, I started to see all the ways I had programmed myself to be numb. I found that when I turned my attention away from trying to ease my own discomfort, I was able to see and respond to more of the struggles and needs around me.
My dissatisfaction has been redeemed.
Jennifer Kinney lives in Shanghai, China with her husband and twin sons. She works as a communications coordinator for a nonprofit fighting to end human trafficking in Asia. When she isn’t doing that or playing referee to her two busy boys, she writes at jenkinney.com about her life abroad, her random thoughts, and being a mom to a child with epilepsy.