Living the Dream
Sermon by Pastor Josh Van Leeuwen
Introduction by Phyllis Yearick
When we’re kids, everyone seems interested in our plans for the future. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they ask. (Maybe they aren’t really all that interested, but it’s a safe question to ask a kid you hardly know.) Once we’re actually grown up, though, only therapists and life coaches seem interested in what we’d planned and how it’s all working out. Oh, people ask, “How’s it going?” but they don’t expect a real answer. So we don’t give them one. “You know, living the dream,” we say with a big smile. But whose dream are we living, exactly? Our own, or that of a parent or other influential person? Do our choices reflect our own heart’s desire, or are they simply a reaction, an attempt to be different from (or just like) a sibling or friend?
Although the midlife crisis generally hits in (you guessed it) middle age, it can happen anytime. Often precipitated by a big event, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, even college graduation, an empty nest, or a move to another place, this crisis of identity and purpose can really throw us for a loop. We thought we knew what we wanted and how to get it, but something causes us to question who we really are and what we’re good at. What we want out of life and what we want to contribute. There’s this specter of the path not taken, the road not chosen, that haunts us. What if we had majored in something else in college? What if we had married someone else? What if we had taken that other job? Moved to that other town? What if?
Of course we idealize the choices we didn’t make. We have no idea what challenges would have accompanied those choices so we don’t think about them. Nobody can see what might have been, only what has been. And we often focus on the negative results of the choices we made. This puts us in the painful position of dwelling on our unlived life, the past we never experienced poisoning our present and setting us up for a miserable future. And even if we did chase our own dreams and not someone else’s, there’s that nagging feeling that if we had chosen differently, we could be living a better dream. No matter what we do, we are full of regret for what we didn’t do.
The people of Israel knew a little bit about that kind of regret for the path not chosen. Time and time again, God promised them that if they would forsake other gods and worship and serve only him, he would be their father, their refuge, their deliverer. And they did follow him, for a while. But inevitably the influence of other cultures crept in, other gods displaced the God of their ancestors, and sure enough, bad stuff happened. More powerful nations defeated them in war and took them into captivity. The Israelites suffered. Eventually, full of regret, they called out to God who, in his own time, always rescued them and set them back on the path of righteousness. They knew their history, they knew the faithfulness of their God, and still they stumbled. You can be sure they often thought about the choices they could and should have made. But they celebrated with joy whenever God brought them home.
Unless we make peace with our unlived life, we cannot grow. Just like the people of Israel, we need to acknowledge our history and own up to our mistakes and then let those mistakes instruct us. We also need to recognize that God has been with us the entire time. Even if we aren’t sure we are on the right path, if we are open to his leading we can be certain that he knows where we’re going, and we’re exactly where we are supposed to be: at home in the center of his will for us. What a homecoming! And we can celebrate with joy because we know that when we walk alongside the God who created, redeems, and sustains us, we can let go of our regrets about the past and fully embrace our present life.
You are welcome at Westview Church! Join us this Sunday morning at 9:30 for worship (Children’s Worship and nursery care provided). Discovery Hour is on summer break.