In Unsatisfied: Finding Contentment in a Discontented World, Ann C. Sullivan sorts through the reasons for our frustrations – Drama, Judgement, Fear, and Comparison – and leads readers on a path to genuine contentment through Hope, Purpose, and Fulfillment. Unsatisfied dares readers to believe that God is closer than you think, sorts through the reasons for unhappiness and frustrations, helps define fulfillment, and leads readers to find genuine contentment.
• Unravels our cultural definition of fulfillment.
• Identifies the empty spaces the comparison game leaves behind.
• Connects the dots that lead to genuine contentment.
“In Unsatisfied: Finding Contentment in a Discontented World, Ann C. Sullivan accomplishes something I wish could be taught yet fear that it can’t: She writes an in-your-face book about a deeply difficult subject, yet she avoids preaching. Rather, Ann takes a come-alongside approach and shares her life, warts and all, revealing what she’s learned and how she’s grown—allowing us to apply the morals and principles for ourselves. It’s a work of art.”
Jerry B. Jenkins Novelist & Biographer | The Jerry Jenkins Writers Guild
“With refreshing humor and insight, Ann skillfully weaves together the current issues of life and the timeless principles of scripture. She points to all the things we should be grateful for and the disappointments that keep us from celebrating. If you’re ready for an honest look at our struggle and the practical solutions that are available, you’ll want to pick up Ann C. Sullivan’s book, Unsatisfied.”
Leslie Strobel Co-author of Spiritual Mismatch
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About the Author
Ann C. Sullivan is an author, blogger, and freelance writer. Her articles have been included in many publications including Christianity Today. Sullivan is also an active speaker, empowering men and women in their personal and professional lives. She graduated from Northern Illinois University where she studied education, history, and philosophy. She worked more than 10 years as a coordinator and teacher in the women’s ministry at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, with Jill and Stuart Briscoe. Sullivan loves tackling the tough topics and finding humor in weighty issues. Read more at anncsullivan.com.
Read an Excerpt
THE BATTLE BEGINS
When I agreed to speak at a women's conference out West on the topic of contentment, I had no idea I'd be battling depression. If I'd known, I would've thought twice about committing.
Choosing a topic for a bunch of strangers is tricky business even without depression. It's even trickier when a coordinator wants me to announce my topic months before I'm ready to pick one. I've actually received publicity brochures in the mail detailing my talks long before I've written them. I'll read the descriptions and think, Hmm, I'd like to hear that.
I love connecting with women, but when I land at a retreat, I'm typically going in blind. I'll stand at the podium and look out over the sea of unfamiliar faces and think, I wonder what they're all retreating from. Would they tell me stories of cruddy jobs or cranky spouses? Would they tell me how tough it was just getting away for the weekend? Or would they tell me it's a great day, and they're ready to celebrate the good things in life, like caramel lattés and girlfriends?
One thing I can count on, though, wherever I'm booked to speak, the moment a topic is chosen, I know I'm going to get worked over by it, just a bit. It's God's way of keeping me real and giving me something worthwhile to say to the strangers who are obviously not strangers to Him.
And it happens every time. If I'm speaking on the topic of contentment, I suddenly have none. If I'm speaking on discernment, I can't figure anything out. If I'm asked to address the power of self-control, I become the kitchen magnet that reads, "Lead me not into temptation, I can find it myself."
A few years ago, for instance, my kids were driving me crazy right around the time I was asked to speak at a moms' event at a large contemporary church. I sat at my computer trying to come up with some sort of outline that would inspire young moms, but all I could come up with was:
1. Don't have any more kids.
2. Quit while you're ahead.
3. Bigger kids, bigger problems.
(Let's close in prayer.)
Depression can show up very quickly, usually after a crisis. But for me, depression crept up almost imperceptibly, generously offering a front row seat to the world of discontentment. All the things that used to bring me pleasure suddenly offered none. I'm not even sure I knew what hope was until I lost it. Before then, life was full of possibilities.
Then one day, while he was home from college and grabbing milk from the fridge, my son suddenly stopped and looked at me and said, "Mom, you gotta get a grip."
That's when I realized I'd been crying for six months. Maybe I did have a problem.
This Could Be Trouble
Not that a person needs to be depressed to feel discontent. For me, though, depression and discontentment fit together beautifully. They bonded instantly. Depression became rocket fuel for my discontentment, exposing every unsatisfied inch of my life. Then, to make matters worse, guilt showed up. I knew I should be grateful. Clearly, I had more than some. But those thoughts didn't help. They only irritated me more.
It was all very unpleasant, but I will say this: going through the process taught me something very interesting about unhappy people. Like it or not, we can be extremely self-absorbed. Discontentment often signals an unhealthy preoccupation with one's self (although that preoccupation can be a good thing if it helps us recognize areas of our lives that need improvement).
After my depression lifted, I went through a kind of honeymoon period where nothing seemed to bother me. Life was good. I felt immune to problems. It was like the rush of new love — the kind I watched a boy have for my daughter right around that same time.
One evening, braving a particularly treacherous snowstorm, he appeared at our front door shivering from head to toe. The poor lovesick kid. He was in school full-time and worked lots of hours, but somehow, he was always at our house. I'm not sure when he slept. As he kicked off his shoes, I felt compelled to warn him that my daughter had been nursing a head cold. She was a walking petri dish. It wasn't pretty. She'd been carrying around a box of tissues with her all day wandering from room to room, infecting every doorknob.
But the boy only smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said, "I don't care." Then he bolted down to the TV room, leaping three steps at a time, where he found my daughter wrapped in a quilt and blowing her nose.
I stood there for a moment wondering what becomes of those delirious days of new love. After thirty years of marriage, when my husband or I catch a cold, we stack enough pillows between us to reach the ceiling. I'm not sure of the science behind it, but we figure if we can't stop the germs altogether, maybe we can disorient them.
When my depression ended, I became the emotional equivalent of a star-crossed newlywed — all sweetness and smiles. But eventually I sensed the honeymoon coming to an end. As life came back into focus, I found myself counting the cost of what I'd just been through.
Maybe I'd need to rethink this thing called contentment, even though I'd been speaking on it for years. Maybe I'd need to revisit the Bible verse I'd always wanted to believe: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4 ESV).
What did that even mean?
I suddenly realized how weary I'd become of platitudes and promises that felt empty. I'd grown skeptical of altar calls, emotional conversions, and, yes, self-help books. Those things may work for some but never have for me.
I was finding emotions to be highly unreliable. When stretched to the limit, they can make us see things and feel things that aren't even real. In contrast, the faith I was discovering in Scripture was deeper than that, grittier, and meant for the long haul. It was levelheaded and bolstered by reliable standards, like cutting-edge research and Harvard studies.
I'd already moved past the gaping hole that atheism had created in me, along with the nagging suspicion that if God was there He probably didn't care. Still, I wanted to be clear about what I could expect from Him in terms of contentment. And what did He expect from me? Because even on our best days, when we're not facing divorce, job loss, or bankruptcy, life can still be tough.
Programmed for Problems
If we want to clear a path to a lasting contentment, figuring out why we struggle in the first place becomes really important. We need to see the obstacles before we can clear them. Sometimes the reasons are obvious, like searchlights in a black sky pointing out a potential shipwreck. Other times the reasons are subtle, slithering quietly into our lives like a poisonous snake waiting to strike. And the reasons are different for everyone, beginning with the fact that some of us just seem to be born more content than others. It's the gene pool we swim in.
When my son was little, I'd stick him in a stroller, hand him a cracker, and we'd spend hours walking through the mall. He'd amuse himself with my car keys or the mirror in the fitting room while I tried on a pile of sundresses. But when my daughter came along, she wouldn't stay in the stroller if her life depended on it, which it usually did by the end of our outing. I never knew why, and I'm not sure she did either, but like all discontented people, she just wanted out. Anyplace seemed better than where she was.
We didn't see the mall for two years.
When my niece, a mother of four, was pregnant with her first, like most new moms, she wanted to do everything by the book. She kept handy her copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting and did her best to create a womb full of happiness. She watched her diet, got plenty of exercise, avoided chemicals and undue stress. Nevertheless, when she gave birth, her beautiful newborn spent what felt like the entire first year of her life crying.
Sure, there were plenty of theories: an underdeveloped digestive system, sensitivity to hot and cold, a full moon. But no one ever really figured out why.
Then, right about the time things quieted down, my niece announced she was pregnant again. We held our collective breath. This time, though, she said she'd be doing things differently. She'd take it down a notch and enjoy juicy cheeseburgers, peanut M&Ms, and maybe even a glass of wine when the doctor said it was safe. And call it a coincidence, but when that little guy popped out, he was smiling, confirming the age-old saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
Life in the Bubble
The personalities we're born with make a huge difference in how we process life. So does the environment we're brought up in. When my kids were growing up, they knew nothing of alcoholism, abuse, or dysfunction. When I was young, I didn't know those things existed either. Remarkably, my mom would tell you the same thing about her childhood.
That's three generations of bubble-wrapped living!
My mom's bubble was still intact even in her early teens. She was helping teach a Sunday school class and noticed a little boy who came in with a black eye. As he walked by, my mom asked what happened. Almost in passing, he answered, "My dad hit me."
My mom just assumed the boy was kidding. The idea that parents might actually harm their own children was so foreign to her, his words didn't even register. Later, though, when she learned some parents do hurt their kids, the boy's face began to haunt her. She never forgot it.
It's a painful moment when we discover how tough the world can be, especially when we're playing nice and following the rules. After years of living in my delightful bubble, I made up for lost time when I developed a nasty panic disorder in college. It dug its claws into my life and tormented me for thirteen years.
My home life was great, but college life was even better. Frat houses. Designer jeans. Really cute boys. But happy hour came to a screeching halt the moment I had my first panic attack. I was terrified and became desperate for answers when everything I thought I knew suddenly shifted.
What was wrong with me? And where was God?
Several doctors, counselors, and pastors later, I finally found my answers. And looking back now, I can see the purpose of my struggle. It had a very refining impact on me and changed the trajectory of my life. (Easy to say now.) It also taught me that even in our worst moments, God still has our back. And when we learn how to recognize the bad things for what they are, the better we can become at maximizing the good.
Struggling with a panic disorder made me more of an expert on anxiety, depression, and despair than I ever cared to be. You become a "scholar" in one of two ways: in the classroom or in the trenches. I spent plenty of time in both. By now, you could say I'm a bit of an authority when it comes to fear and doubt.
For years I lived with my humiliating affliction and just assumed I was one of "those" people. Not too strong. Not too bright. Then, when I was finally diagnosed and treated by a very heads-up internist, I realized I wasn't crazy. I wasn't weak either. In fact, my doctor told me it was quite the opposite. He said it had taken enormous strength to press through my panic disorder the way I did. And now, if I can give that same encouragement to someone else who's struggling, well, it almost makes the pain worthwhile.
I survived because I had a solid support system in place, and I opted for healthier solutions, like jogging rather than drinking. But it was always a battle. And when I finally learned there wasn't anything really wrong with me, it was like meeting myself for the first time.
We create all sorts of false narratives in our lives, and it's natural to assume the worst about ourselves when we're struggling. We wonder if we brought the problems on ourselves or if maybe we could have avoided them somehow.
And negative thoughts can be addicting. All those creative brain cells, the ones that used to be so helpful, suddenly turn on us. The chemicals get out of balance and the synapse wires get crossed.
But our struggle doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong with us. It could just mean there's something wrong with the way we've been doing things. And if what we're doing isn't working — news flash! — it's time to try something else.
Most of us live our lives somewhere between completely clueless and totally overwhelmed. Understanding where we come from and what's going on around us is an important part of our personal equation. This is the kind of information we need if we're ready to chart a new course.
Twenty years of working with women has shown me lots of ways behaviors are learned or inherited. Our tendencies toward depression and anxiety are often genetic, whereas resentment and intolerance are typically modeled. Understanding our own dynamics of "nature vs. nurture" can give us an entirely new set of tools to work with as we confront our discontent.
I've heard Woody Allen talk about our need for the power of distraction. "The best you can do to get through life is distraction. The key is to distract yourself." A new romance, a good movie, a creative moment, Allen says we can distract ourselves in a "billion" different ways.
At first, I used to view Allen's comments as negative — almost futile. Then, after processing a little more life, I found myself rethinking his words. Perhaps I'd been a bit hasty.
For some, discontentment will come and go like heartburn after a spicy taco. But for those of us who battle stubborn moments of discontentment and unhappiness, Allen's advice is insightful. A good distraction may be all the antacid we need. Finding things that can distract us, preferably things that are healthy and legal, may be all we need to pull our minds out of their temporary funk.
And it should be something fun — or at least useful. Something that will pay dividends later, such as when I first started blogging. I thought, Who besides my mother will even see this? But it kept me busy, and two years later I had fabulous material for a second book.
Here's the thing. Life is a journey, and contentment is all about heading in the right direction. Happiness is a byproduct of doing the right thing, though there's no guarantee that every step of the journey will feel good. Sometimes we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, at least for a while. For most of us, anxiety, anger, or sadness will come and go. But if we're on the right track, we'll eventually get where we need to go.
Discontentment not only exposes our weaknesses but also reveals the empty places inside of us. Learning to fill those spaces with good things is an important life skill for people who struggle with discontent. But again, the art of "healthy diversion" comes easier to some than others.
My husband has always been good at puttering. Instead of stewing over a disappointment, he finds a project to busy himself with while he processes his pain. The result is usually something we all benefit from, like updated landscaping, a new ceiling, or his famous raspberry jam.
The differences between his "tendencies" and mine became glaringly apparent several years ago. After decades of living in large houses with big closets and oversized bathrooms, it was time to start thinking about downsizing. The handwriting was on the wall. Our nation's financial bubble had burst, our kids were in college, and the tax rates in Illinois continued to increase whether our square footage was being used or not.
We figured it would take a while for our house to sell, so we put it on the market right away — long before I was ready. And wouldn't you know, the thing sold immediately, which thrilled my husband but left me feeling homeless.
Technically, we were homeless, for a few months, as we looked at houses and even considered renting. But nothing appealed to me. Because the truth is, I wasn't ready to downsize my house, my family, or anything else in my life. So, while I busied myself with bitterness and self-pity, my husband took the reins and talked me into a modest short sale that was in desperate need of repair.
I cringed as the Realtor walked us through the place, but the skilled handyman in my husband glowed with the possibilities. In the days and weeks that followed, I watched him channel his inner Chip and Joanna, knocking down walls and yanking up floorboards. He completely transformed the place and was energized by every upgrade he made. Not only would the little house be cozy and affordable with its huge tax reduction but would also sell quickly when the time was right.
But for me, the entire process only exposed my own moldy floorboards. My sense of contentment was constantly tested as I tried to adjust to small spaces and virtually no storage. And I failed miserably at it. I remember wondering how it was I'd become so spoiled. I thought I was a generous person. I thought I was a grateful person. I knew I was better off than most, though I've never understood why we should find solace in knowing that others have it worse than we do. Maybe I needed to learn a few things about being generous and taking fewer things for granted. Like my taste buds, which I always tend to forget about until I'm stuffed up with a head cold and lose all sense of taste and smell. It's then that I come to appreciate those little buds that cover my tongue, the ones I forgot are there.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Unsatisfied"
Copyright © 2019 Ann C. Sullivan.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Battle Begins 1
Chapter 2 Too Much Drama 17
Chapter 3 What Are You Waiting For? 37
Chapter 4 Head Games 63
Chapter 5 People Are Work 77
Chapter 6 Check Your Judgment at the Door 91
Chapter 7 Trendsetters 113
Chapter 8 Making Fear Work 129
Chapter 9 What Can You Offer? 151
Chapter 10 Take Back Control 173
Chapter 11 Hope Springs Anew 189
Chapter 12 Finding the Purpose 211
Chapter 13 Toolbox 225
About the Author 248
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Unsatisfied" is a book that encourages the reader to see past the fluff of what the world offers to seek true contentment. Author Ann C Sullivan contemplates the longing that few seem to be able to satisfy: that of being content in our current station in life. Scripture mentions this often, usually attributed to Paul, who talks of being in plenty and in want, yet still feeling content with either status. Ann shares her battle with a panic disorder, trying to discern what her illness was and how to treat it for 13 years. She speaks of her life before and after her diagnosis. Finding contentment is not a quick process, but it can be a manageable one if we commit to it. Far too often we continue to wish for more than we need, or envy those that have what we want. Could we really be satisfied with less? Do we already have too much? Within her stories of friends, community as well as her own private, personal battles with learning to find the silver linings while finding comfort in the imperfect, Ann's writing can be all at once personal and encouraging. I found myself highlighting and marking quotes to share, even those I feel I may need daily reminders of in my office or home. I have never heard or read any of Ann's work prior to this, but I am excited I had the chance to be an advanced reader thanks to the author and #Netgalley. All opinions are my own.