Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The death of dreams

What does life look like when dreams die? I'm asking this question because I find myself there. You see, though I can't place when it happened, my greatest dream has died. For years, since I was in high school, my goal was to be a teacher of the Word of God. Really what I wanted was to be a preacher, in an expository fashion, of the Word, but I didn't know that's what I wanted until I was exposed to expository preaching in seminary; but that's all come and gone.

That which animated my life for the longest has now become but a bit of background noise. I devoted my life to fulfilling my dream. The courses I chose at college, the groups I associated with, developing my skills and reading books on subjects that I thought might make me better, all of this was geared to one goal. When I graduated college I took a job I didn't like with one goal: to spend time there to put money aside to pay for seminary. Then I chose a seminary I thought would be the best to help me achieve the dream of teaching God's people.

At seminary I chose the course of training that I thought would give me the most rounded education and the ability to serve Christ's church the best. You see, at Southern the Biblical and Theological Studies track is one of the most challenging (not that any are easy!) but is also very well rounded, requiring the student to be familiar with both the Old and New Testaments, with Greek and Hebrew, and with a multitude of theological approaches. That was what I wanted, to be as familiar with the Bible as I could be, to be as well equipped to serve the church as a pastor as I could possibly be. My goal was to do this as fast as possible, so I could go from school and preparation to service as quickly as I could. So my wife and I sacrificed what we could, we sold what we could to get the money we needed, and I finished school in three years. All of this had one goal in mind: to be a preacher of the Word and an effective servant of the church and of Christ.

After seminary my wife and I moved in with her grandmother. I thought it would be temporary, lasting only a few months. After all, I'd already had my resume out for several months. I'd sent my resume to dozens of churches already, so there was no way I wouldn't hear from someone soon. But, lest we think we are the architects of our own destiny, life tends to turn out differently than we expected. After not hearing from any church for a year, I started looking for a job in the secular world.

My goal was simple: find a temporary secular job, keep looking for a church, and just help make enough money so that we could afford our own place. Well, things didn't work out that way. I found a temporary job, but due to various events, we could never really set enough money aside to move out on our own.

Well, since I've been out of seminary, 2 years now, I've heard from three churches who asked me to come and preach for them, and many, many more who didn't need my preaching to tell them they weren't interested in me. (Oh, and one search committee who asked me to set up an evening preaching engagement at a local church so they could come and hear me, but they never contacted me again, so I can only assume they found someone else.) Basically, its been a long and very frustrating two years. I've complained to God, I've asked those in my church whether I may have misunderstood the calling of God in my life, and I've gone to the depths of depression, seeking nothing more than darkness and solitude. Through it all though, I've continued to hope that there was a church out there, somewhere, that needed me, that wanted me to come and be their pastor. But now... now I don't really care any more.

It's surprising to hear myself say that, and to know I'm being honest. It's surprising because even now I'm in the first semester of an Ed.D. Program from Southern. I began this program hoping to get a doctorate so I would be even more prepared for the church. I figured a doctorate in education would make me even more useful, and would help me to be even more prepared to teach in the church. I still have a lot of work to do, but it's only 6 semesters long, and I'm almost 25% of the way through the course work now. But as I said, I don't really care about it any more.

You see, the temporary job I found has become more than temporary. I've been offered a full-time salaried position. It isn't a lot, but it is enough for me to care for my family, to provide a roof for my wife and daughter, and to be out on our own. I know I won't ever wake up saying, “I can't wait to go to work today!” but at the same time I don't wake up saying, “I hate this job.” While I may not be thrilled about what lies before me, I don't dislike it. It is, for all intents and purposes, sufficient.

Looking back, I've spent half my life trying to find a way to be a teacher of the Word, to serve the people of God. My hope was to be a pastor, with all that entails: counseling, visiting, preaching, praying, teaching, encouraging and rebuking, I wanted to do it all. So I spent years studying, learning, being a student of what I wanted to teach. And perhaps, in some small way, I have done that which I desired. I've taught classes, I've preached the Word, I've encouraged the discouraged, I've rebuked the foolish, I've counseled the hurting, I've visited the sick, and I've prayed through all of it.

In looking back at what I've done and what I've been I can honestly say that I haven't accomplished my dreams. Yes, in some small way I did a little of everything I hoped to do, but I never served in the capacity I had hoped for. In looking forward at what God has laid before me I see little to no reason to think the future will be any different than the past. But, perhaps there is something here in the present, something I never expected to find while I was dreaming about a future that never happened. Perhaps, where I am today, though there is no excitement, there is contentment.

The death of dreams is not an awful thing, it is not a depressing thing, not is it a part of life to be raged against. The death of dreams is perhaps the birth of contentment. Depression, anger, frustration, and bitterness in regards to life occur because the dreams of life have not died. In the midst of the dream, when I could not have what I desired, when I could not accomplish what I was seeking, no matter how hard I tried, there I found depression, there I was angry, there I was frustrated and bitter. Now, now that the dream is dead, I'm not depressed about it, I'm not angry, I'm resigned to the realization that this is life, and I'm content with that.
Paul says that if we have food and clothing, with this we should be content. He said to Timothy that godliness with contentment is great gain. So I am content to be where I am. Instead of raging about what I want, instead of sinking to depression thinking I'll never accomplish my dreams and desires, I'm at rest, content that this is what my life is.

Do I still desire to be a pastor? Yes, most certainly. Would I take a position if one was offered to me and it was sufficient to support my family? Again, of course I would take such a position. But I'm okay with what I have, I'm okay with the fact that I will never be a pastor, that I will always be a “layman” and that I will never serve the church in an “official” capacity.

My dream was to change the world for Christ. To preach the Word with boldness and see many come to know the amazing love of God that sent his Son to die for sinners such as me was what I wanted. I wanted to be great in the kingdom of heaven, to use the gifts the Lord had given me to really make an impact in my generation. I wanted to be like Paul, saying that I worked with all the might that God had given me, and yet not I but the Spirit who lived within me. But God's plan was something different.

Maybe I'll impact the world, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll preach the Word and see many come to Christ, and maybe I won't. Regardless of what I accomplish in the future I know this: I've impacted the lives of those around me. I've preached Christ to friends and family, to co-workers and strangers as I've had opportunity. More important than anything else though, I know I still have my ministry to my family, and no matter what else may happen, this is the ministry I have to focus on.

So while my dreams may be dead, I'm content with where I am. I've given up thinking I'll be a pastor, but I know I'll never stop being a husband and a father. I'll never change my nation, but I can change the lives of my wife and daughter for the better. This ministry, the opportunity to serve my family and love them no matter what, is worth a few dead dreams. In this I am content.

To God be the glory, amen.