The essence of the American dream is that if you work hard enough, move fast enough and dream big enough you will achieve your goals. “Pursue your dreams and follow your heart,” is the message we have been seduced with, cajoled to reach for, and coaxed to live by from birth – into adulthood – and to death. Inherent to this statement is the assumption that pursuing our dreams and following our hearts produces happiness, peace of mind, success and more. Herein lies the paradoxical problem of living by this principle.
On the one hand, we should set goals and pursue them. We believe in the American dream and that if we work hard enough – God or justice will ensure that we “succeed” in this life and find happiness. Perfect in shape and size, primed for life, we do all the right things, feed the dream, follow the rules. But then something goes wrong as a result of some ruthless act, a careless word or because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The promise of “happiness” is unfulfilled, and our beliefs and ideals are cracked and splattered like soft eggs plopping on the floor.
The paradoxical truth is that questing for self-satisfaction and personal happiness eventually leads to nothing more than a very small life. Seeking nothing more than to sing, write, race, dance, play sports, be a good worker, a great parent, or any other myriad of choices limits a person’s worldview. It leads to tunnel vision in which the only souls that matter are those of our family members or children; the only things for which we sacrifice are our own passions. We become selfish, focused only on our family, our desires, our wants and our careers at the expense of spiritual vision; we literally become spiritually blind. We can no longer see the rest of the world – the people – through the Father’s eyes — as hurting, lonely and in need of Christ’s love.
The concept is not new. The apostle Paul called it hedonism – the worship of self. Living for one’s dreams and following one’s own heart is the American form of hedonism.
But for those who live for Christ, a peculiar contradictory truth is actually the end result of living a hedonistic life. As our individual lives wind down day by day, moment by moment it dawns upon us more spectacularly that none of the things in this world matter eternally. They don’t deliver happiness. Not even achieving all that we ever dreamed of brings true peace and happiness. In fact, it is the opposite. One must lay down one’s dreams, one’s family and one’s life to really know God and live for him.
Finding God and knowing God is the real dream to pursue, the perfect end to one’s own story, to God’s story. As we age, we come to the realization that our salvation has always been God’s story — his great love and pursuit of mankind. His happy ending is our personal salvation.
So the question for each of us becomes this: What is your goal and your dream? Are you seeking personal happiness? Are you pursuing God’s dream for your life?
May you find answers to the questions you seek and may you find hope – an eternal hope beyond yourself.