This isn't the kind of post I like to post. I'd much rather post epiphanies, or at least things that I have all together (or that make me look like I have it all together), not musings on issues that run deep and don't seem easily resolved. That said, here's what's on my mind (let's see if I can make it make sense to someone other than me).
I’ve been fighting with my dreams lately. There are things that I want to pursue and I’m struggling to discern whether they’re from God, from my own soul in response to God, from my own soul in response to the world, from a dark part of my own soul that’s trying to look good. I’m so afraid that they’re not from him, that they’re only things that will distract me from him, in fact, and that following them is only going to lead to confusion. I’m afraid that I’m being selfish, that I should stick in there and fight it out and give up my dreams for the sake of other things.
In the process of all of this, I’ve discovered quite a few questions and almost no answers. If the story about the girl and her kite was my right-brain way of asking these questions, consider this post my left-brain's answer to that.
It's hard for me to be struggling with this. I’d love to jump on the “follow your dreams” bandwagon (Is that a bandwagon? It certainly feels like it from where I stand, but it’s hard to tell…). But I have this little niggling thing in the back of my mind that tells me I need to think about it some more, need to feel about it so that when I do jump into something, I can jump in with my whole self.
So I’m pondering whether following our dreams is good. I’m wondering how much I should abandon/risk to follow my own dreams, and a lot of that is based on whether or not I believe those dreams are good.
*Please know that what follows is A LOT. It’s heavy and convoluted and confusing (or, at least, it feels all of those ways to me). If you’d rather not read or don’t have anything to say, I understand.
When I talk about following dreams, I’m not talking extreme dream-following, doing things that might get you killed, sacrificing your family, etc. I think it’s pretty clear that things like that aren’t right unless there are some pretty compelling circumstances. I’m talking about more run-of-the-mill dreams (are there such a thing as run-of-the-mill dreams?)—for the purpose of this conversation, things that don’t involve jumping from high places to low ones (with paraphernalia, of course), moving to countries where people like to shoot each other (though that one’s debatable), yada and etc.
Here are some of the questions that come up when I think about all of this (This all formatted much easier in Word...when I pasted it in here, I lost my whole hierarchy and I can't get Blogger to recreate it...I hope this still makes sense):
- How do we practice self-denial and simultaneously follow our dreams? It seems like there’s something inherently selfish about ME following MY dreams, even if I dream of something incredibly humanitarian. It’s MY dream to give this to you, and so I am fulfilled by helping you. Am I doing it for me or for you? And what if I have a different sort of dream—one that’s not inherently humanitarian? What if I dream of opening a knitting store or having a web-run business that supports my family? Those aren’t evil things, but I’m definitely following MY own leading toward something I think will fulfill ME when I do it. And I look around this world and think that there’s a lot of goods greater than me being personally fulfilled. Should I suborn my dreams to those greater goods?
- I’ve heard that the things we’re supposed to give up are those things that keep us from following our dreams—the fears, etc. We have to be willing to look silly, stupid, etc. to do the things that we want to do with our lives. I only sort-of buy this. It only works if we know that God wants us to pursue our dreams, that they are somehow ordained by him.
- That brings me to another question: where do our dreams come from? Are they from God, involved somehow in the particular way each one of us reflects his image, implanted in us when we’re given life and made in his image (Another way to say this would be, “Are our dreams unique missions from God, the pursuing of which will directly move us more and more toward becoming the individuals he created us to be)? Or are they generated by our own souls, as we respond uniquely to both the image of God in us and the world where we find ourselves? Or, are they our own answers to what we see when we look around and try to figure out what would make us happy (in other words, are they idols, things we would sacrifice a lot to have but that won’t make us happy in the end)?
- I really want to believe that our dreams are from God—it doesn’t matter to me in which of the above ways, as long as they are things that come from him and go back to him. I like this—I want it to be true. But I keep running into problems with it.
- If pursuing our dreams is what God wants for us and doing so makes us more and more the people he created us to be, then what do we make of people who can’t pursue dreams, or who maybe are too focused on survival to even think about dreams. I’m thinking of refugees, people who have been through major trauma and spend the rest of their lives recovering, people who live in deepest poverty and it’s all they can do to survive, let alone dream. Do these people just never get to become the people God wants them to be? Is that a privilege of the wealthy, those of us with the time, energy, and psychological resources to dream and follow those dreams?
- This doesn’t seem true—often, it seems like people who have less financially or who struggle through life know God the best, or at least know him well. What does this say about the role of dreams and pursuing them.
- If pursuing our dreams is what God wants for us and doing so makes us more and more the people he wants us to be, then what do we make of people whose dreams fail? Are they just never going to become that person God wants them to be? I don't think that's right. Were they not good enough? Don't like that, either. Did they miss God’s call on their life and chase a wrong path? I don't even necessarily think this is true--I think that sin and evil can thwart even a good dream and God might allow that, for whatever reason. But, then, how do we account for sin and evil when it comes to dreams?
- I come back to the selfish thing again here. I don’t think God wants us to be selfish, and so many dreams are selfish. Even the ones that offer good to the world are usually done first for the well-being of the do-er, not for the people who get the good as a sort of by-product.
- What is the role of safety and responsibility in all of this? I’ve heard great stories about people who quit their jobs to follow a dream and end up happy, healthy, and whole. But I’ve also heard stories about people who quit and whose dreams fail, who then have to somehow pick up the pieces not just for themselves but for their whole families and move on. It’s great to say that there’s really no such thing as safety and that each of our first responsibility is to ourselves and the dreams in our hearts, but the truth is that there are things that are more safe than others. How much risk is acceptable? How much is too much? Does it depend on the kind of dream it is (like, it might be acceptable to risk more if my dream is to take the Gospel somewhere but not so much if my dream is to write books or start a business)?
- These concerns seem to particularly come into play when you start talking about people with families. It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to rise my own life/health/mind/well-being/stability/whatever,” but completely another to risk those for other people, especially children but also spouses, parents, etc.