Austenland: When You’re Living in an Austen Novel
I saw Austenland recently. For those of you who haven’t heard of it—it’s a movie about a woman obsessed with all things Jane Austen, who’s been unlucky in love and decides to spend her life’s savings to attend an immersive Austen experience in England complete with manor house, Regency attire, and gentlemen of fortune. I laughed until there were tears pouring down my face. It was charming, witty, and hilarious, and it proved to be a thoroughly authentic Austen story, while still managing to poke lots of loving fun at the genre.
As with any Austen work, a major theme in the story was singleness and it’s ever-present shadow: the search for a mate, the fulfillment of what is thought to be lacking. So I sat there in the movie theater feeling a bit like I’d crashed a party. I am married, after all. I found a man. I won the Jane Austen lottery when I met my husband late one night in a scene fit for a novel. Who am I to buy a ticket to watch the still unmarried fumble around trying to find what I already have? Who am I to get my entertainment from the have-nots, when I—apparently—have it all?
Yet I resonated with the protagonist—and not in an “I remember what that used to feel like…” kind of way. No, I was right there with her in all her “Who am I? Where am I going? What am I doing with my life? Am I a mess?” angst. The specific details of our stories might be different, but I still know exactly what it feels like to be waiting for life to start, to be wanting to know who you are and where you belong, and what your purpose is in life.
I’ve got a ring on my finger, yes, and a husband who I love, but I lack too. I’m not saying it’s the same, and I’m not saying I understand what it’s like to be single, but I am saying I know what it is to be lacking. I know what it is to long for something. I know what it is to look at another woman and think, “Well, she just has it all, doesn’t she?”
I’m a married woman who’s had a miscarriage, but not a child. I’m a college-educated woman with (what feels like) no career. I’ve spent way too much time being jealous of my married friends who are mothers, or my single friends who have careers, or who travel, or people who have any combination of things: my married friends who travel with their children all over the world for their amazing careers, and look perfect while doing it!
I’m not going to go all spiritual on you and say, “Let God fill up all the places you’re lacking! Let him be your husband, or your child, or your career, or your self image…” That’s just kind of weird and unrealistic—if you don’t have a spouse, then you don’t have a spouse and that hurts. If you don’t have a child or a career, or whatever else it is that you’re longing for: that hurts. I’m saying instead: let God be with you in your waiting, and longing, and lacking. Let him tell you that right now you have ALL his love. Let him tell you that if you ever wake up one day and “have it all,” that you’ll still be lacking because you’re human, but that somehow, miraculously, you’ll still have all his love, forever and always. You have all his love right now, and that’s not something you tell yourself just to make yourself feel better. It’s true. It’s truer than all the things we don’t have or may never have.
So hold what you lack loosely, in your hands, because it’s real, and it hurts, and you feel it, and you’re human. But spend your life learning that God’s love is complete—it’s the one place where we always have enough and always are enough. It’s the place where we paradoxically exist: lacking everything and nothing all at the same time.