Yes, there was that little 32-year delay – but eventually it happened, or will happen very soon. My wife was up until after 2AM last night writing a paper and preparing a presentation for her last day of class, which is today. She’s been involved in a two-week intensive class, studying the holocaust. Each night she’s been reading history and writing about it. Sometimes we’ve had conversations about it, and at times her content has intersected my world as I’ve been bringing a teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount to completion. These teachings of Jesus challenge the pretense of religion and the use of “god words” to justify injustice, attitudes which were present in the Germany of the ’30s and led to their eventually collapse under the weight of a mad man. Barth’s Romans and Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship are both written to call people back to robust faith, a cry which is needed in our time as well. But I digress….
The 32-year delay happened because this was the woman I wanted to marry, and so I asked her and she said yes, even though yes meant moving to a different state before graduating. Then she invested her time in other things, like financing my grad school, giving birth to three amazing children, raising them, functioning as principal and head teacher as she home-schooled them. When we moved to the city, she continued by working in Seattle as a means of funding their education all the way through the completion of their college careers, while being a pastor’s wife and the co-director (with me) of wilderness retreat center along the way. By December, though, she’ll have completed her degree requirements, and will, next June, graduate right alongside our youngest daughter. That’s a graduation I won’t want to miss. Believe me: I’m not only proud of her, but humbled by her enormous investment in our life together.
If you’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life or Mr. Holland’s Opus; if you’ve read your Bible and looked at the lives of Joseph, or Moses, or David, or Paul; if you’re over 45 years old, you know this: Some dreams are put on hold. There are at least two reasons for this:
1. The world is fallen – Untimely deaths, illness, employment challenges, hurricanes and earthquakes, war; these are all setbacks that arrive, uninvited, into our lives at various times. Nobody plans for these things, but they happen. When they do, our dreams are need to be put on the back burner so that grieving or surviving or rebuilding can happen. This is our world, and this is the danger of dreams. It’s easy to believe that our desires for the future are the most important thing about life, but history tells us otherwise. Esther was born for “such a time as this” even though the time was a time that put her people at risk of genocide. Nobody asks for these kinds of intrusions, and the truth is that none of us are immune from these things. The good news of Christ is that right in the midst of these realities, the life of Jesus can still be formed in us, enabling us to be people who shine as light in our dark world. We need to hold our dreams loosely in a fallen world, because we may be called to other realities. As Gandalf says, what matters is what we do with the time we’ve been given.
2. There are other dreams – Even without the effects of the fall, the reality is that many of us several dreams: We dream of living overseas or getting married, of climbing mountains in Asia or raising children. Dreamers can’t have it all, in spite of what the world tells us. We’re told to find our main thing in life and invest in it first, and most. This can be challenging as it might mean letting go of good things because of better things, even though better things may not always have immediate rewards. So, you invest in parenting, and set your skis in the closet. You invest in your marriage and set aside some “more personal” goals. You invest in your calling, and your dreams take a back seat.
It seems that our capacity to enjoy downsized dreams is critical to our joy and contentment because the reality is that each of us have some things that God has for us to do. Doing them, though, requires a devotion to them which, in a finite world, necessarily diminishes other dreams, or at the very least delays them. I am profoundly grateful for the woman I married who embraced her primary calling (and this isn’t a post about gender roles – she viewed herself as wife and mom before anything else) and has lived into it with grace and joy, even when it meant that other pieces of her life were put on the back burner.
One of the great gifts of life, though, is that it isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not all or nothing. She’s an amazing mom and wife, and now she’s finishing her degree. She’s been the manager of 99% of life’s details for the Dahlstrom household, and still managed to enjoy the occasional hike and backpacking trip, as befits an Outdoor Recreation major. And now, 32 years later, she’s graduating.
Bonhoeffer said, in much darker times, when all dreams were dashed, “We must learn to cultivate gratitude for the little things.” Indeed. A simple morning of climbing isn’t as good as a three-day expedition and first ascent; but it’s still a climb. A short-term mission trip isn’t as good as moving to Asia (if that’s your thing), but it’s still a chance to both bless and be a blessing. Jogging twice a week will never put me in marathon class, but it’s still good. We live into our primary calling and in the process downsize a few other dreams. It’s best to enjoy the downsized version, rather than making an idol of our grand visions and becoming bitter in the process.
As I watched my wife last night, pouring over her notes and typing papers, I was reminded (as I am daily) that she could have done nearly anything. She has a good mind, works hard, and is creative. What she did, though, was marry me, which led to a downsizing of other dreams. She’s lived into this with grace, joy, and creativity – and I believe that many people are the richer for it, especially me, who is richest of all.
Autumn is a time for dreaming, as school begins again, and people move, and step into new seasons of life. Sometimes the containers in which our dreams can reside need to change size – those who can flex with that are richly blessed. Enjoy the weekend, even if your dreams are on hold, or downsized.