I’ve had three dreams for my professional life since I graduated college: first, I wanted to be a professional musician. Second, I wanted to plant a church that would preach the gospel faithfully. Third, and most recently, I wanted to be a successful writer and share my family’s testimony. These have been my life dreams for the past decade and a half.
And to be honest, I haven’t been doing especially well in any of them.
My career in music was brief, and rather unspectacular. I wrote some good songs, and played some good shows, but never was able to attract interest from record labels as I had hoped, and maybe even expected. The church I had planted survived for only two years before closing down…well, two years and five months, but who’s counting? And it appears less and less likely that a publisher is going to pick up my memoir – perhaps that is a bit premature, and a bit cynical, but who knows. So that’s it, three dreams, three failures.
As a result, I have spent untold hours trying to puzzle out why I was unable to be successful in any of these endeavors. Without trying to sound conceited, I don’t believe it was an issue of skill or talent. Perhaps there is something to be said for the fact that I never really threw myself into these fields as more successful people usually do. Although I love music, I hated the music scene, which dulled my motivation as an aspiring musician. While planting the church, I was also struggling with my wife’s cancer diagnosis, which was somewhat distracting, as you can imagine. So perhaps a lack of effort contributed somewhat to my lack of success.
But one idea that I return to time and time again is that of chance and fate, that maybe it was just never meant to be. It had little to do with talent or connections or anything circumstantial, just that I wasn’t meant to be any of these things, too bad, so sad, that’s fate. Now, this belief is supposed to make a person feel better about themselves, but not for me. As a Christian, I don’t believe in fate and chance, only that God directs my life with a plan that He forged long ago, supposedly in infinite wisdom, and in infinite love. And so, it would also logically follow that it was not fate but God Himself who had a hand in my inability to be successful in any of these dreams. As much as I would like to ignore the thought, perhaps God did not want me to realize my life’s dreams.
It reminds me of this clip from King of the Hill where Bobby wants to be a husky child model, and his father refuses to allow it.
That’s me – I wanted to be a husky child model, and God wouldn’t let me…or something to that effect.
That has been a hard thought to confront. After all, there was nothing inherently wrong with any of these dreams, as if I wanted to become a successful drug dealer or serial killer. And in all three of these ambitions, my ultimate goal was always to put God first, and to encourage other people. Why would God have a problem with that? Why would God not want me to live out my dream? Does He not love me, or want what’s best for me, is that it??
No, that can’t be it, that’s going too far. That thought doesn’t square away with anything I know or have experienced of God. So what is it then?
Well, perhaps it is that these dreams are not actually good for me, at least right now.
You see, I have an extremely fragile psyche, and am very affected by critique, both positive and negative. If someone says something encouraging to me, I feel like I am able to do anything at all. But conversely, if someone criticizes me or puts me down, I feel like I am able to do nothing at all. The smallest criticism can, and has, floored me emotionally. And so let’s say that I had become a semi-famous musician, or a pastor, or a writer. Or a very famous one, for that matter. That would have been nice on many, many levels, don’t get me wrong. But it would be very bad for me in that there would be a lot more criticism to absorb as well.
For instance, a person left a critical but insightful comment to a post about race I wrote on my blog a few months ago. It was mildly harsh, but nothing compared to the comments you find on your average message board, not even close. But I just about died. I silently railed against the reader, drafted a few scathing responses, pouted furiously, before finally realizing that she was right and apologizing for my glibness. Now just imagine if this happened every time I wrote a song, or gave a sermon, or wrote a post: dozens, no, hundreds of comments or tweets designed to criticize at best, destroy at worst, questioning my intention, skill, orthodoxy, theology, looks, height, complexion, all the random crap you see being floated on the internet. Knowing myself as I do, I would be crushed, over and over again. I could never put up with that level of criticism, and would be far, far worse for it.
And so it began to dawn upon me that perhaps God did not allow these dreams to be realized because they were not good for me, because He knows thin and frail my shell is, and how easily cracked. And so He did not allow these dreams to be realized not to stifle me, but to protect me; not to put me in my place, but to put me in a better place.
(Going back to that clip from King of the Hill, it turns out that Hank won’t let his son be a husky model because he knows that a bunch of bullies are waiting to throw donuts at them, and he wants to spare his son the misery of being picked on for his weight, for which his son is deeply grateful…)
Many of our dreams, as much as we would like to imagine otherwise, are products of our imagination, or what we imagine our best life would look like. We form these dreams with infinite care and creativity, with as much wisdom and self-awareness as we can muster, and then submit these dreams to God and ask for His blessing. But despite all this care and attention, we have to face the fact that our most precious dreams still may be the absolute worst thing for us. We must learn to trust God more than we trust our dreams and ambitions, for God knows us better than we know ourselves, and loves us more as well. And when He says no, He does so only for very good reason, and with our very best interest in mind, just like all parents do with their children.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love my dreams, and hold them still. It’s just that I have learned to love and trust God far more.