I’ve been conflicted about dreams. Not the unconscious kind we have while sleeping, but the conscious, intentional kind that might also be called goals, visions or aspirations. Here’s what I been wrestling with: are dreams good to have, or does having them more often than not end up in disappointment, disillusionment, discontentment and even despair?
I think most kids have some kind of dream(s) at various points as they grow up. Most of them are fanciful and unattainable. For example, I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman and/or a country artist. Twenty-ish years later, I am neither. I still love to fish for bass and pluck a country song on my guitar, but I know those childhood dreams were just that – dreams.
There are certainly those select people who “dreamed of doing (fill-in-the-blank) since I was a kid” and managed to achieve their goal. But, let’s be honest, that’s not the case for most of us. Regardless of what culture teaches, we cannot do anything we put our minds to. That’s a lie, plain and simple. Why didn’t I achieve my dreams? Because I lacked the resources (money, equipment, etc.), the location, and, frankly, the talent. Yes, there are stories of people who overcame many of those obstacles to finally attain their dreams, and that’s why I am conflicted about this.
On one hand, as a parent, I want to cultivate my children and help them reach their full potential. I want them to do the things they enjoy, and “dream big” about the things at which they excel. I want to give them the opportunities and resources necessary to pursue their dreams. Could my youngest daughter be an Olympic gymnast? Maybe, if we commit to years of extensive training. Could my son design rockets? Maybe, if we get him into the right schools (and all the cost and logistics that go with it). Do I want their dreams to come true? Honestly, that’s also a “maybe.”
Why would I not wholeheartedly champion my children’s dreams to the fullest extent possible? Because being a gymnast or rocket scientist or country artist or football player or President or whatever might not be what’s best for them eternally. It seems so many of the people who do work hard and make their dreams come true find that the level of their success is matched only by their level of emptiness because all their toil was in pursuit of temporal things.
I’ve not lived relatively long (36 years), but I’ve lived a lot – enough to know that what really matters in life are relationships and finding joy no matter where you are or what you’re doing. The most important relationship, of course, is with Jesus Christ, for it’s that relationship that gives true meaning to all others. The joy that I speak of also flows out of that relationship with God because it’s the hope of heaven (living in the eternal presence of the Lord) that enables joy in all circumstances.
I have found that dreams and aspirations are not compatible with contentment and joy in the present. If we’re always looking ahead to something else, something bigger, something better, then we miss seeing the good of the now, and, subsequently, fail to be grateful, content and joyful. It may be that fixing our vision on some goal way off in the distance will cause us to be blind to opportunities that God places right under our noses.
I may not be a Nashville star or making money hauling bass out of lakes from coast to coast, but I’m very content – to the point of being overwhelmed – by where God has brought me. I have a family, a job, a home, college degrees, and more “stuff” and “things” than I need or ever thought I’d have. Is it because I had some childhood dream of being a military officer and living an exotic life (a pinch of sarcasm) of living/traveling all over the world? No. That never even crossed my young mind. It’s because early on in life I got to the place where I had no plan or ambition other than to walk each day in the way I believed the Lord was leading – and seeking to find joy and contentment as I did. Have I been content and joyful every day since? Emphatically “no”! I am weak and struggle like anyone else to be content and joyful when life is hard. Here’s the point: God gets the glory when we can say it was he who brought us to where we are, rather than us saying that by believing in ourselves and pursuing our dreams we got to where we are.
So, to those people who dream and aspire to something great, and to those who live in the now, I believe God says the same things:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” 1 Timothy 6:6
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5