A friend of mine updated his Facebook status yesterday to “Living the Dream.” It caught my eye because I happen to know this guy pretty well and I honestly don’t think he is, in fact, living the dream. I know a bit about what this friend wants to be doing with his life and his current life choices don’t seem to be marching him anywhere close to his desired destination. And he’s a bit miserable about it. But it got me to thinking . . . what is the indicator that we aren’t living the dream? Is it simply that we’re not happy?
My husband, Doug, and I have currently been walking out somewhat of a “challenging season” in our financial life. Doug launched a business two years ago that is experiencing slow but steady growth and I am currently serving his business as CFO while at the same time studying and writing. Finances are tight and we’ve had to make some pretty drastic life changes in order to stay afloat. “Character development” is a concept we discuss – at length – daily. It’s not uncommon for thoughts of doubt, disillusionment and defeat to knock at our door, waiting to be let in. And if we’re being honest, sometimes some of those thoughts slip in the back door while we’re not looking. What they produce is nothing short of despair and a general questioning (which I’m sure many of you are familiar with) – Are we doing the right thing? Are we getting any closer to the promises of God for our lives and the vision He has crafted before our eyes? Is our current state of stress and difficulty an indicator that we’re not living the dream?
It makes me think about pregnancy. From the beginning of our marriage Doug and I were passionate about raising a family together. We were both very much looking forward to parenting kids and enjoying watching them grow up into all God wanted them to be. We had many discussions about what our family would look like and what foundational beliefs we wanted to build this family on. We spoke to each other about the dreams God had placed in our hearts for this family. So when those two pregnancy tests (that would eventually lead to the births of Jacob in 2008 and Nathanael in 2009) showed positive, we were thrilled. We were on our way to our dream!
I was lucky enough to have fairly easy pregnancies during the first and second trimesters – no morning sickness or complications. The worst symptom of pregnancy for me in those days seemed to be the waiting. And isn’t that what a lot of our time is spent doing in the early phases of walking out our vision? You wait. You learn how to wait patiently and expectantly and with a sense of contentedness. During those days you still feel the excitement of the promise even if there are some days you are antsy about the timing. Life is still good, though. You’re still living the dream, albeit at a pace that’s a little slower than you expected.
But then the third trimester hits. Waiting turns to discomfort, and discomfort turns to pain. I have a very short torso, so both of my children stretched into my ribs pretty badly right around the seventh month. My second son decided to press his head into that spot and keep it there until he was born, necessitating an urgent C-section we weren’t expecting. I also had pretty bad reflux during the home stretch of both pregnancies. Some nights I had to sleep sitting up in bed if I was to get any rest at all. In the third trimester you have to do things you wouldn’t choose to do if your body were still your own – taking walks at odd hours, sleeping on your left side when you’ve never slept on your left side in your life, repositioning your body about fifty times while sitting in a meeting so that little legs and arms aren’t pressing the life out of your bladder. Then there are all the practical things that have to happen during this time – setting up the baby’s room, getting clothes and supplies, and making sure your bag is all packed – the list gets pretty long.
Then labor comes. I don’t care who you are or how easy your birthing process was, at this point every woman admits to discomfort of some form and a whole lot of urgency to deliver. At the birth of my first son the delivering doctor decided, without telling anyone in the room including me, I no longer needed pain medication administered during the last phase of labor. The epidural was shut off and for about 2.5 hours I labored and delivered an 8 ½ pound baby boy. I can distinctly remember a moment about ten minutes before he was born when I grabbed the doctor close to me and said, “Get this thing out any way you can!” Forget miserable; I was in sheer agony.
So back to my original question: Do misery, discomfort, pain and doubt tell us we’re off track and no longer living the dream? Not necessarily. For me, I’ve learned that these things can actually tell me I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. That the dream is, in fact, coming to pass. Wasn’t Abraham still living the dream when all he had were a couple extra letters added to his name? Wasn’t David still living the dream when he was running from Saul? Wasn’t Jesus still living the dream even as he was being accused and beaten and crucified?
As I focus on obedience and putting one foot in front of the other, remembering what God has promised for the outcome, it’s faith that actually tells me whether I’m in the right place or not. Not the sensations that my body is feeling or the thoughts that my unbridled mind can sometimes produce. I may be in the most trying season of my walk to date, but what I can tell you is this – I’m living the dream.
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