24 April 2009

Around We Go: Dreams and Other Flying Things

So, I haven't been around much. When you see (below) where my mind has been, lately, you'll either understand or wish I was still gone ;)

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.
As you can probably see, I've been making myself a little crazy about all of this, going round after round with my own mind and heart on these issues. At the back of it all, I keep wondering if I'm thinking about things so much because I don't want to have to go after something. But the minute I think about going after something, all of these things pop up again. So many of my deepest personal doubts and struggles touch these issues that I'm not sure I even feel qualified to discern whether it's what I'm wanting that's harmful or staying where I am that would do the most damage, but who else is going to do it for me? Thus I'm walking in, wading through, hoping that I recognize truth when I see and that it stomps on all the lies.


Tammy said...

Sarah, sweet Sarah. This blog made me smile, all the way to the end. It is very precious to me to see someone even bother to ASK these questions (taking the reaching a conclusion out of the equation entirely).

I don't have a magic wand to wave here. You are presenting some hard core questions.

Okay, so I am weird alright, but I loved this statement: "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."

I liked that statement because it is reality. I go through this mental dialogue constantly over some decisions that I have made.

I used to do the opposite of Gideon "throw out the fleece" thing when it came to a job though. Gideon wouldn't make a move until he was sure God was going with him.

I would say, "okay God, this is what I am about to do. If you object You better do something quick cause I'm confused." Don't You have a grapefruit tree hanging around up there somewhere? Maybe You should consider knocking me in the head cause I can't hear a dang thing You are saying about this. And if you don't I am gonna blame YOU when things go South!" It is YOUR fault God. You should have stopped me. You of all people know how blind, deaf, and dumb I am."

I realize I have said a whole lot of nonspiritual things here.
As you can see I am not the person to consult with about your predicament. As usual I have rambled through a looonnnnggg comment and said nothing of worth.

I wish I could say something profound and wise like Christianne or Terri, but I am just not that "deep."

Sarah can you believe I am going to school to be therapist? Considering what I just said that is sorta a scary thought. Malpractice suit here I come. If have never seen the movie anger management you won't understand the photo of my therapeutic skills. Jack Nicholson plays this totally twisted therapist.

I will say this, I love the way you think. Although I know just how torturing that can be. It is an inner war. But, nonetheless I think it is a very beautiful snapshot of someone who wants to follow God.

My Wish said...

“It may take courage to embrace the possibilities of your own potential, but once you've flown past the summit of your fears, nothing will seem impossible. ”

Remember to always..."DREAM BIG!!!"

My Wish said...

“It may take courage to embrace the possibilities of your own potential, but once you've flown past the summit of your fears, nothing will seem impossible. ”

Remember to always..."DREAM BIG!!!"

terri said...

hi sarah,

seems like you and i think the same way. i don't think i have many answers for you, but i do think it's good to wrestle with these kinds of questions.

sometimes i think there really are no universal ways to think about all of this. maybe it just comes down to you and God and the integrity to listen well for as long as you need to. i don't know. i hope you can find enough peace to move forward or let go of whatever is stirring up the water in your heart.

Joelle said...

WOW! What profound, deep thinking here, Sarah. And I have such little to say in response. Mostly listening to your wondering wisdom, your own God- and self-knowing that is alway unknowing somehow. I don't know. I really don't, what dreams are "good" and which are "bad." But I trust that there is an undercurrent of Love that graces my dreaming and doing, flowing through the choices I make so that Love comes out of even the biggest selfish mistakes. May you trust that Something that is bigger than you, bigger than your longings, the very Source of your desires. And may all your dreamings take you to Love.... You've made me think. And I'll keep mulling on what you've asked for a long time.

sojourner said...

i've been through what you are going through and i took the plunge to pursue the dream because i believed God told me to follow my heart's desire - i'm still not sure where it will lead me but i am doing it because i believe God ordained it and my family supports me in it - as far as your situation is concerned i believe you will get an answer from God when the time is right for you to make the decision and if you happen to make the wrong decision, i believe God will bring you back to where you need to be and you will be better for the journey - that was my simple response to you - but right now i would love to know the particulars of your dream - what is it that you want to do?

christianne said...

Hi Sarah,

I'm with everybody else: you're asking great questions, and I love to watch you think out loud.

I'm also with Terri: I'm not sure there is one clear-cut answer for this. As I was reading, I was thinking it's possible for God to work in multiple ways with multiple people and times and places. As economies and cultures grow in different directions, the needs of those people change. One culture isn't better or worse than another because the people living in it are or are not able to pursue higher-level dreams or simply need to subsist on enough to survive from each day to the next. I am thinking that each of these different people are precious in the eye of God and that his eye is on each one of them, meeting their needs and drawing them to himself and working out his purposes through them, wherever and whenever they are.

I think, too, it could have a lot to do with intent. Two people could do the same thing and have totally different intentions. One person's intention could be for love, while another person's intention could be for selfish gain. So the dream itself is not the good or bad thing but what is motivating it. I think that's the part God is concerned about being in conversation with us about. And that comes back to it being an individually based thing.

I was thinking, too, about this idea of whether to wait until we know our motives are completely pure until we act. I'm not sure about this. In some ways, our motives may never be completely pure. In other ways, we may never be able to be completely conscious of our true motives at any given point in time. All we have is what we can see in ourselves at the time: what God allows us to see when we wrestle honestly with him.

I don't know. I had a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head as I read this, and they seemed to make sense in my head when I thought them. But I don't think that translated very well here. I guess what it boils down to is that I think God is complex enough in his dealing with humanity to be able to handle all sorts of scenarios and have them be individuated each and every time ... which lands me at the idea Terri voiced, which is to say that we each individually have to wrestle honestly with God from the place we are, and there are no black and white answers.

heather said...

Let me be blunt.
I believe we've taken a very cultural idea of dreams (i.e. What Color Is Your Parachute) and infused it with all sorts of piety so that it sounds something like "Am I in the center of God's Will?" (As you hinted at with your questions about how those in 3rd world countries see dreams.)
Don't get me wrong: I absolutely believe that God gives us unique gifts and personalities and desires. But I think there's a lot more freedom than our rhetoric and approach make. God has revealed his will in the Bible: it is the story of how his good creation fell and how he acts to redeem it. He has revealed our calling: to glorify him, to go and make disciples, to love our neighbor as ourselves. And the Bible gives us a plethora of wisdom in decision-making in both how his people make decisions (some bad examples, some good--probably more bad!) but mainly in the wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, James).
I'll be blogging about this on Friday (good timing!), but basically, the thought process goes like this (I'm into colons lately, colons of the grammatical variety, that is): We follow God's revealed will (which we discover in Scriptures with the Holy Spirit and the community of faith). In prayer, we make decisions based on this revealed will (does it glorify God? will it make him known?) and trust that God will intervene when necessary. (This isn't far from what Tammy says. Interesting that she believes her discernment process not as spiritual. Also note that Gideon was clearly told what to do and his fleece-trick was a way of stalling and hopefully getting out of it. Yet we use this as our model?)
I think God gives us a lot of freedom. I also think you are wise to ask the question of motivation. While we will always have mixed motivations, we should always pursuing God in everything we do and every decision we make.
So you see, I have no advice for you. I have not clarified anything for you. But I do hope to lift a bit of this burden from you. The fact that you are concerned with doing what's best for your spiritual growth reveals that you are concerned more about loving God than loving yourself (although, of course, we are still striving toward perfection, not having reached it yet). Fear not, my friend. Pursue opportunities wisely, but don't let these questions paralyze you. Trust that God will intervene. I believe God gives us more freedom than we think he does (and maybe we're afraid of that freedom, to be honest--it's a heavy mantle). As long as we obey him and display fruit of the Spirit, I think he delights in any number of decisions we may make.
All right. I'll stop stepping on toes now.

heather said...

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
James 1:5

Sarah said...

I am so blessed to know all of you, just so you know. I have so many thoughts that I think I'm just going to write a whole 'nother post, but I wanted to thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU all for your offerings here...I'm blessed indeed.

kirsten said...

i haven't read this yet, but it's not because i don't want to. i'm seeking the space and the time because it's important to me to soak in every word.

love you, girl. i'll be present soon.