As I near the end of my undergrad degree, I’m getting more questions about what I’m going to do ‘afterwards’. Aside from the basic and straightforward response – pursue an MA – it’s a hard question to answer because it suggests that it’s only now I’ve (almost) completed a degree that I’m actually able to pursue my goal of writing. Really, though, I’ve been working towards this in one way or another since I was seven years old.
But the degree adds a kind of subtle pressure. In a sense, it legitimises a long-held dream, but in another way, it reduces the dream to a mere to-do list. I suppose that’s the problem with dreams. They are intangible fantasies which only come true when they reach a tangible conclusion.
The way I’m using the word ‘dream’ and making it interchangeable with ‘fantasy’ probably sounds like I’m not a fan. Perish the thought! I’m a big fan of dreams. I think imagination is important. And I strongly suspect that many of our dreams are God-made ones, originating in the Creator’s heart and transplanted into our own.
But lately I’m realising that the tangible conclusions we dream about and work towards are always strictly measurable ones. We dream of adopting a child, or building a house, or being married, or rescuing women out of slavery, or painting a prize-winning portrait, or travelling in space, or writing a novel. We think that when we achieve those things, our dreams will have come true. We’ll be successful!
We don’t dream about the little things along that pathway, though. We never dream about filling out psychiatric evaluations, or taking an architecture class, or building ourselves into the sort of person who would make a good partner. We don’t dream of squirreling away a little bit of money here and there to send to a mercy mission, or cleaning our paintbrushes, or reading dense physics texts, or putting 500 words down on paper every day, good or bad. To us, those things aren’t success. They are the things we do while we’re waiting to be successful.
The other day, I had a nasty thought: if I die and I’ve never had a book published, will I count myself a failure? To give you an even greater insight into the lame depths of my own heart, my next thought was: will people think I’m a joke because I never achieved my dream?
Bleh. My, it’s great to be reminded how pathetically human I am. And I mean that sincerely. It was eye-opening to discover what a place of honour my self-made idea of success had been given in my heart. And not merely success for my own satisfaction – after all, small things make me pretty content. But there’s this idea that I need to be successful to prove I haven’t wasted my life, to ensure that I meet with others’ approval, and to be absolutely certain I don’t mess up what might be one of the main things I was meant to do with this four score years and ten (plus a few, I hope).
How backwards all of that is. How backwards my dreams can be! Wherever did we get the idea that One Great Dream defines who we are – defines our success?
God says that it’s the one who is faithful in little things who’ll be given opportunity to be faithful in big ones. When we pray over adoption websites, rescale blueprints, learn to cook healthy food, attend a seminar, make preliminary sketches, watch a documentary on space exploration, take a red pen to a first draft – then, we are living our dreams. The dream isn’t made real when we hold the baby in our arms, hammer the last nail, open the safe house, stand at the altar, accept the blue ribbon, get outside earth’s atmosphere for the first time, or finally see that paperback with your name on the spine. In fact, those things might never come to pass. But we can be parents, builders, advocates, faithful friends, artists, astronauts, or writers as we faithfully pursue the work that we care about, looking ahead to the final goal but never letting it be the one definition of who we are.
We can work at our dreams and work well – today. Being faithful in the little things is our worship and our success. Which, I guess, is actually the dream come true.
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Laura Elizabeth -- thank you for giving me permission to obtain a little teeny piglet. BRB, pig shopping!
Lauren -- What did Arnowld Schwarzenegger say? "Owl be back!" Yes, I did just make that joke up. How can you tell?
Un -- aw, your March thing fizzled out? Start again in May with me!
A Child of Promise -- aw, glad you like them! Haha, trust you to appreciate the "teef" -- and a good reading spot. We are literary-loving kindred spirits :).
Brenda Wilkerson -- isn't it just? I kind of wish it were possible for me to adopt a baby piglet immediately.
Sarah -- the relaxing spot is indeed a great place for studying! Do you have a favourite place to sit down with books and papers for some heavy duty reading?