American Dream deferred
I have been thinking a lot recently about the notion of the American Dream. These thoughts permeate my mind on and off but I have felt them more prevalently since having Annikah. There is something about having a baby that makes me feel I am supposed to have arrived "there." My dilemma: I am really not sure where "there" is or if it is a locale I want to be at?
Visual imagery of the white picket fence, the fulfilled wife and hard working husband, the 2.5 kids, and the golden retriever flood my mind although I know this is no longer the reality in America (or anywhere) and maybe it never was. In our capitalism and consumerism we have been marketed into believing we need certain things to be happy; to reach the elusive dream. Maybe it is nostalgic but I feel like the American Dream used to be about working hard, earning an honest living, and seeking happiness. Now it seems like happiness comes with a big price tag and part of paying that price is losing your own ability to be content and joyful with your life; just as it is and as it unfolds. There is a marked difference between being happy and being joyful. You can chose joy in the midst of anything God has for you but happiness seems dependant on one's circumstances. I struggle with even feeling joy when minor things annoy me let alone major trials. I know that joy is what I desire, I will not settle for fleeting happiness.
Of course, historically I must state the obvious that this American Dream was not equally available to everyone despite what many history textbooks would have us believe. At this point I feel it necessary to mention that I love this country and I know that I am blessed to be a woman born here but I do not think discussing and admitting the sins of our collective past makes me a bad American. To the contrary I think only through the process of difficult national self reflection will we ever come to resolutions and solutions that embrace our stated identity.
At the conference I attended last weekend one of the speakers said "the American Dream is not God's dream for your life" and I resonated with this notion. I have been feeling this way a lot recently. Not that I am ungrateful for what I have or that I am ignorant of the amazing opportunities and open doors that I encountered in my life simply because I was a white woman born in America to parents that loved me and provided for my needs and many of my wants. But I do distinguish and am more sensitive to the excess this country is preaching as necessity. I realize the hypocrisy of my even noting this while typing on my laptop in my own condo (making me among the wealthiest 1 percent of the world's population). I have the luxury of even pondering these questions while many women across the world are struggling just to live through today and keep their children physically safe. I just feel that God has been teaching me that my self worth is not based on what I have or even what I have achieved but rather who I am. I want to consciously reject some of the consumerism that has been packaged and sold to us as the American Dream. I want to be able to make choices in the freedom of knowing who I really am; my identity being rooted in my Savior. I want to do so without making judgements on others who pursue different paths. I am on no high horse or soap box here by any means as I fall into desiring things that are not needs far too often. "Fall into" lets me off the hook too easily: I chose to pursue the here and now, not the eternal things I have faith are better. God's word clearly speaks to me on my desires to chase after earthly things and reminds me of where my true treasure is,
"Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matt 6:19-21. I think I will forever fight the materialism I know in my heart to be meaningless. Part of this struggle for me is the entitlement I know I have bought into. It seems much of of my frustration in life boils down to the fact that I feel entitled. I feel entitled to not have to wait in a long line at the post office, I feel entitled to not ever have my things stolen or broken, I feel entitled to have a healthy baby, a house, a car as long as I "work" for it and am a "good" person. The problem here is my outlook; that I work hard at whatever I do and therefore "deserve" things. This easily creates "me" and "them" as I look at other's circumstances and choices and I can easily look at myself as better than others. This is another dark side of the American Dream that I have too often embraced and it also robs me of the ability to receive the blessings (both large and small) in my life with open hands.
Another part of the American Dream is this notion that we can create for ourselves a "safe" place. This safety we seek is illusive. It cannot be guaranteed in our flawed, fallen world. We know this to be true every time we flip on the news of pick up a paper: children's innocence taken, families destroyed, senseless acts of violence. So many that I become apathetic to hearing about the pain. To believe we can even "be safe" is an illusion. I do not want to live a safe life, as the American Dream defines safety. I want to embrace the challenges God presents me with. Of course, I do not search for danger (and those who know me know that I will not even go running or walk at night alone). It is not about seeking out danger but rather about the choice to not avoid risk that has a purpose. I have been thinking about this as we move closer to leaving for Africa. I believe that God has something for us there. And although some days I worry; especially about Annikah, I have faith that the safest place for our family is where God has called us. It does not guarantee physical safety but rather the peace that God promises to those that risk for Him.
The Barbarian Way by Erwin R. McManus speaks to this issue in a powerful way and I reread this passage as these thoughts were rolling around my head:
This passage really spoke to me about the messiness of life and how most of my attempts to "clean it up" leave me feeling frustrated and exasperated. There is; of course, nothing wrong with having nice things or wanting to protect your family. Instead for me, the sin lies in investing too much into these things, in believing I can achieve them on my own apart from God. Many pieces of the American Dream are for me but I want to consciously reject those parts that keep me from living in the true freedom I know is available to me. For now we are not seeking the 1.5 extra kids or the golden retriever either. :)