The American Dream–(noun) 1. the ideals of freedom, equality and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American. 2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S. (dictionary.com)
What?! I did not EVEN realize definition 2 actually existed in written form. Is this how the rest of the world views America, the “Christian” nation? How embarrassing.
This post may seem like a random Monday morning rant, but it’s not. It’s truly something that’s been on my heart for some time now, a result of reading things like Crazy Love and Seven. You see, I have always heard of and believed in The American Dream, thinking it was just definition 1. But I’ve realized definition 2 is the one 99% of us are chasing and, in my opinion, therein lies our problem.
When did it all change? When did we allow The American Dream to outweigh God’s Desire for our lives? Our nation? At what point did “the pursuit of happiness” overtake the pursuit of God’s heart and the Great Commission? When did good ‘ol hard work and self-confidence turn into entitlement and self-gratification? When did Thanksgiving become just a national holiday instead of a way of life?
We tell our kids they can be anything they want if they just put their minds to it, work hard and determine not to let anything stop them. But is that a Biblically accurate statement? Or is that selfish ambition? Isn’t it more honest to tell them God has a plan for their life and then encourage them to seek Him and find out what that plan is? Teach them to “die to self” and pursue God’s heart? Yes, their potential is unlimited and we want the absolute best for them. Our intentions are well meaning, but at what point do our expectations and desires for them overshadow God’s uniquely ordained plan for their life (Psalm 139:16)? What if Mary and Joseph had encouraged Jesus to be the best carpenter in town, to seek success according to human standards, instead of trusting and supporting the plan God had for him?
These days, telling our kids they can be anything they want is dangerous, scary even. We’re starting to see a generation that believes they really can grow up to do anything. Just like Snooki.
And why, as a society, do we think all kids should aspire to be doctors or lawyers or something “professional”? Why do The Haves look down their noses at those who do anything less? I don’t know about you, but when my air conditioning went out a few months ago, I didn’t call a doctor or a lawyer. We need all types of brains and jobs to keep this “life” of ours going and no one job is better than or more important than another. Yes, some jobs pay more than others. But why do we think we deserve to earn six figures a year? Does God promise us this or does The American Dream imply it?
Here’s a crazy thought: maybe The American Dream isn’t God’s plan for my life? Maybe it’s not the purpose He had in mind when He created me? Maybe it’s not God’s plan for me to have a bustling full-time career? Maybe it’s not God’s will for me to own my own home? Or drive a new car? Or have a husband, 2.3 kids and a dog? Or maybe it’s not even His plan for me to have a college education? These are by no means “bad” things to have or aspire to, but when our having and aspiring gets in the way of our believing and following, there are going to be problems. It has been said that even good things are bad things if they’re not God things.
Don’t know about you, but I’m ready to call a spade, a spade. The American Dream is actually the American Lie. Satan, in his greatest deception yet, has blinded an entire nation. This “dream”—which is exactly what it is—has distracted a country once full of radical Jesus Followers. Instead of seeking God’s Will and His Best, we somehow have traded that in for Our Will and Our Best, putting our faith in the “pursuit of happiness,” that if we just work hard and put our mind to it, we can achieve whatever sort of greatness we desire. Nothing can stop me if I’m determined, I say! …Not even The Still Small Voice of God.
We feel The American Dream must be realized and actualized in life or we must be doing something wrong. I’ve been there. There was a time that I devised a plan and chose my path to success over what I knew God was calling me to do. And I regret it. I believed I could not be happy or satisfied until I reached whatever it was I was striving for. Whether we realize it or not, our mentality is, “I’m not successful yet and therefore, not happy yet.” And this is no one’s fault, I’m not pointing fingers or placing blame. This is just how we’ve been as a society.
Momma has always said, “Happiness is a choice.” She even has it on a sign in her house. Happiness is not a destination, it’s a state of being. It is not something to be pursued, thank you very much Thomas Jefferson. It is a conscious decision. It is a choice I’m going to have to make if I ever truly do want to be happy. Because if I’m basing my happiness on my life circumstances, my bank account, my health, my dress size—whatever–then I’m gonna be unhappy for all but maybe 3 hours of my life.
The Truth of God’s Word makes it clear that God is not interested in my happiness. He’s most concerned with my obedience, for that is how I show my love for Him. (John 14:15)
In Mark 10 we see where Jesus was approached by a rich young man. Dude had it goin’ on. He was rich. He was successful. He had lots of Stuff. He had been successful in his pursuit of happiness, so now he wanted to secure a seat in heaven. “Good Teacher! What must I do to go to heaven?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus knew this guy’s heart and scripture says “He (Jesus) had genuine love for him.” Jesus knew he was a good guy, an upstanding citizen and a keeper of The Law of Moses. He also knew this guy was rich and successful and that his Stuff had gotten in the way of his love for God. “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then, come follow me.” (v.21)
Say what?! This guy is like, (Jessie translation), “But Jesus! I’m a good guy! I haven’t killed. I don’t lie. I honor my parents. I don’t steal. I live a life more decent than most. I’ve never asked for a handout. I’ve worked hard and earned everything I have, and you want me to do what?! Why would God bless me with all this Stuff if He wasn’t going to let me keep it or somehow use it for His glory?”
Although this man had great wealth, his desire for heaven proves he still wasn’t at peace, he wasn’t truly happy. Perhaps his Stuff wasn’t a blessing from God, but rather earnings from his own doing that God allowed him to possess? “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” (James 1:17a). Do we really think every bit of our Stuff is “good and perfect”?
Jesus goes on to say, “How difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God.” (v.23)
Isn’t America considered the wealthiest country in the world?
Like the rich man, we’re collectively saying, “Look, God, we know You’ve blessed America. You’ve given us more than enough of everything. So why can’t we keep our Stuff and be happy, plus get to heaven without having to give anything up?” His reply? (Jessie version)–You can’t. You can’t serve Me and money. (Matt. 6:24) Period. No way around it. It’s either the American dollar or Me. You’re either striving for The Dream or you’re striving for Me. You’re free to choose which, but the consequences are not an option. You can either have the life you create or you can have the abundant life I’ve promised you.
“‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says The Lord, ‘plans for good and not for harm, plans to give you a future and hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God told Jeremiah in the very same chapter, just a few verses earlier, to tell the Israelites, “Don’t let the false prophets and mediums who are there among you fool you. Don’t listen to the dreams that they invent, for they prophesy lies in my name. I have not sent them, says the Lord.” (Jer. 29:8-9) What exactly were these “dreams” the false prophets invented? Think they had anything to do with how to gain prosperity or how to be happy? And look, they were claiming to do it in the name of The Lord!
We can indeed do whatever we set our minds–or our hearts–to. That doesn’t mean we should. (Think Adam and Eve here.) But what if we set our minds and hearts to seeking after God and Truth and His Freedom? Is that a dream, too, or a promise we can cling to?
“You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest.” Jeremiah 29:13
Does God really mean that? If we seek Him, will we find Him?
“Yes, says the Lord, I will be found by you, and I will end your slavery and restore your fortunes…” Jeremiah 29:14
Wait a minute! Finally find God, end our slavery and restore our fortunes…? Where do I sign up?! Be careful, though. Read that again. God did NOT say we would be happy or rich. He promises we’d be free and restored.
His promise is for “good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
And He promises to hear us.
“In those days when you pray, I will listen.” Jeremiah 29:12
This is the pursuit we should be on: Finding God; being listened to by God; gaining freedom from all that enslaves us, like debt and the desire for more; being restored to a right relationship with Him.
THIS is the real pursuit of happiness. And it’s not a dream.