28 April 2009

Dreams Redux

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.

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.

08 April 2009

You're Invited . . .

I just had a fabulous idea while I was in the shower. Well, I don't know how it will turn out, but it seems fabulous right now.

In 29 days, I turn 30. This afternoon, through some sorta related but mostly unrelated thoughts, I started thinking about what that means to me, what my twenties and my teens and all the years before now meant, and how I feel and think about it all. As I thought, I realized that what I'd really like to do is be interviewed about all of this (I think that's the lazy girl's way out--if it's an interview, I don't really have to organize it all!).

Now, I don't have anyone to interview me, and part of the fun is not only answering the questions, but asking them and recording them and all that. I thought about thinking up the questions I want to answer and interviewing myself, but that's not nearly as much fun as a community project. Besides, so many of the people who I'd love to celebrate with are people who I only or mainly know online (that's y'all). So, I'm issuing an official invitation for you to come to my Online Interview Birthday Party (you're invited even if you know me in offline life, too!).

To celebrate with me, all you have to do is ask a question. I'm up for almost any questions, whether they're helpful-in-reflecting-on-30-questions, silly questions, dumb questions, funny questions, sad questions, any questions at all that you'd like me to answer, just leave them in the comments.

Sometime around the first of May, I'll sit down with all the questions and figure out how I want to answer them (writing? video podcast? audio podcast?). Somewhere around my birthday, I'll post the answers here, in whatever form they take.

I don't promise to answer every single question, but I will do my best to get to all of them. Inappropriate questions will not only not get answered, they'll be deleted from my comment list (Do I even need to say that here?). I'll probably add some questions of my own, and if nobody plays along, I'll come up with the whole list.

What do you think? Fabulous, right?