Thanks to everyone for the great thoughts on my last post.
Having done some more thinking and mucking around in my head, I'm realizing that this is more of an issue of head vs. heart than it is about me not knowing what the answers are to what we should make of our dreams and what that means about following them.
My head, I think, agrees with much of what you all said. I especially felt like Heather's comment reflects where my head is at (I won't recap it here because she said she's posting about it on Friday, but you can check the comments on the last post to read it). When I think of things this way, God is like a military commander who trusts his ground commanders: He says that we have to strive for certain objectives but he gives us a lot of freedom as to how to go about them. I think that he might have a more specific will for certain individuals in certain situations, but he reveals that in a special way, in those situations.
I think this is definitely the way I feel about writing (as an example of one of my dreams). So many writers say that God has called them to write, specifically, and I haven't had that experience. I don't feel like God has told me to stop writing, or not to write. Instead, writing is something that I love and find important and pursue and use to convey truth about God and this world. I could probably do that in other ways, but this is the one that works for me, right now.
The hitch is this: I may write and write and write and never, ever be published the way I want to be. While learning to write well as a goal in and of itself has become much more important to me over the last several months, I'd be a terrible liar if I said that I never hope to have some of my work published. It seems inherent to writing to want publication: if you think you're saying something important, don't you almost always want to be able to share it with others?
But here's the kicker: if I felt like my dream came directly from God (instead of as a product of my choices, even though I want to ), I would feel like I had a much greater chance of success of seeing publication than I do if it's just me. God acts so definitively and pointedly in favor of the things he specifically wants (I'm thinking about all the battles he helped Israel win that they should have lost). With God not only on my side, but on the sidelines instead of in the bleachers or watching at home on TV, writing is safer. Everything else I want to pursue is safer too.
So my heart wants my dreams to come straight from God. If they do, what could there possibly be to worry about? If they don't--if they're from me, even if I'm choosing to follow His objectives as best I possibly can, lots of things can go wrong. These things, mind you, could have nothing to do with me, my motives, desires, etc.
As a corollary to all of this, I struggle more with my dreams when they're not specifically God/Christian oriented. To keep on the writing example, God doesn't show up explicitly in everything I write. Sometimes I write to take readers on an emotional journey and not necessarily to introduce them to God directly. While I don't think that's bad (a single piece of literature cannot, after all, encompass every aspect of life well), and while I know that part of living a truly Christian life is seeking excellence (or awesomeness ;) ) in everything we do, I wonder if I should be turning these works into something else . . . even when the only way I can think of to make them more explicitly Christian also makes them cheesy as cheesy can be, and I don't think God wants me to make my work BAD in order to tack his name onto it.
In the end, I want to be safe. I want my dreams all wrapped up in their nice little packages, ready to be unrolled as soon as I commit myself to them, as soon as I'm good enough to be the person who receives them. While I know that it's not like that, my heart is so afraid. And that's where I struggle--my head says that what my heart wants isn't true, my heart panics, and tries to explain itself in words my head can understand. That's never a good thing: hearts work best when they use their own syntax.