Well over a decade ago, a good friend challenged me with this question:
What do you dream about?
I remember feeling creases deepen on my brow as I answered emphatically, and somewhat bitterly,
I don’t dream. I’ve had enough disappointment already.
This post is about why I stopped dreaming, how I eventually discovered that hope in God is better than my dreams, and why this blog is called Average Us.
❯ UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
Follow your passion.
Chase your dreams.
Believe in yourself.
I’ve heard messages like these most of my life. Advertisements. Motivational Gurus. Preachers. Bloggers. All urging me to chase something which I’m not—but could be—because the potential, they say, lies within me:
The potential to be great.
And my over-stuffed ego believed it. Too much.
Like those who built the tower of Babel, I dreamed of making a name for myself, of leaving my mark on the world, at least, in the church world.
❯ UNEXPECTED REALITIES
And so, I dreamed the dream of awesome…
but quickly found I wasn’t.
Instead, I found that I was mistake prone (e.g. I made bad decisions), that mistakes have consequences, and that consequences can last for years.
I found that life is hard. Things don’t go your way. You have to pay your dues, and start at the bottom (sometimes more than once).
I found that no one makes it alone, and that I was a poor bridge builder.
I found that I really wasn’t all that. I wasn’t as smart, or gifted, or talented, or winsome, or influential, or confident, or wise, or tenacious, or inspiring, or cool-under-pressure, or stable, or energetic, or great…
as I thought I was.
So, by the time I was in my late-thirties, I was a disillusioned former pastor reluctantly beginning an IT career, wondering miserably who I was. I felt like twenty years of dreams just withered and blew away. The only thing awesome about me was the size of my identity crisis.
And my biggest fear?—was that soon my son would be old enough to realize his dad was a loser.
What do you dream about? my friend asked.
Dream? Ha! I dreamed about not feeling bitter.
❯ CHASING AWESOME
I’m not alone am I? Some of you can identify with my disappointment with life.
You and I live in a society of dreamers. That’s pretty much the promise of America: You can achieve your dream. American books and blogs and music and magazines stick awesome in your face and tell you how you can be that, too. In school, kids are told they can be anything they want to be. In church, they hear how God will do amazing things with their lives. In college, the graduation speaker tells them to dream big and make a difference in the world.
But, in spite of what we’re told, in spite of whatever intellect, charm, or creativity we may possess, and even if you don’t fail like I did, most of us have to settle for much less than our dreams promised.
❯ EMBRACING AVERAGE
So, what are we supposed to do? Just be that disappointed 40-year-old me who wouldn’t dream? Are we just supposed to give up on our dreams?
We could. For a long time, I did.
But maybe, my dreams were just… wrong?
Since I was 16 I had professed to be a Christian, but my dreams were all about me being a messiah. While saying I belonged to God, I, like Adam and Eve, dreamed of being a god. My dreams were all about who I could be and what I could do. I forgot that I was just a bit-actor on God’s stage.
Instead of dreaming about how I could be awesome, I needed to dream about the One who is. Instead of dreaming of what I could do (or even of what God might do through me), I needed to dream about what God has done, of what He is doing, of what He promises to do.
I needed to embrace my own averageness, placing my dreams and hopes in the truth that God alone is great and awesome.
In fact, I needed to learn that God is great, even when my life isn’t.
❯ AVERAGE AMBITIONS
I dreamed the dream of awesome, and found I wasn’t. I’m not. I won’t be. And most importantly, I’m not supposed to be.
And if that’s the case, then embracing my averageness and God’s greatness will have to look something like this in my life. You could call these my new ambitions, my new dreams:
1. Significance: I must look for significance in the mere fact that by God’s grace alone I belong to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ, and not in anything I can be, or achieve.
2. Contentment: I must learn to be content in every situation He ordains for me, whether joy or sorrow, because I know God is great, and I belong to Him. My achievements, talents, personal appearance, public image, self image, skills, knowledge, influence, popularity, and wealth must have no connection to my contentment in Him.
3. Usefulness: My desire must be to be found found useful to Him in any way He chooses, and to be helpful, reliable, and compassionate to those He brings into my life, whether I receive their recognition or not.
4. Growth: I must become ever more attentive to God’s work in the world, and God’s message to the world, so that I may become more useful to Him, and more helpful to others.
❯ MY AVERAGE LIFE
The thing that most helped me to dream these new dreams was a valuable lesson I learned at a men’s retreat:
Whatever problem you face, find a verse in the Bible that addresses it. Memorize that verse. Turn it into a prayer. Write it down. And pray it every single day.
My problem was disappointment over how my life had turned out, but Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 teaches that we can find enjoyment in God’s simple provisions of life: food, drink and work.
A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find enjoyment in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?
So, for three years I prayed a prayer which I drew from this passage:
Father, please match my gifts, skills, interests, and education with my source of income, and let me be useful to you whatever I do.
God heard. God answered. (That’s another story).
But it was the praying that got to me.
Prayer was what taught me, slowly, bit-by-bit, to hope in God, not myself; to be content to be average, not dream of greatness.
That’s how I learned to trust
God is great, even when life isn’t.