When Life Has Killed My Dream

Sometimes, our lives don’t go the way we’ve planned, do they? “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living….Now life has killed this dream I dreamed.” Some of us have lived through hell, haven’t we? My guess is some people reading this are going through their own personal hell right now.

In Luke 10, someone asks Jesus what must be done to experience eternal life. Part of Jesus’ answer is to love your neighbors. That same person then asks who his neighbor is. In answer, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan which starts this way:

“This fellow was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho when some robbers mugged him. They took his clothes, beat him to a pulp, and left him naked and bleeding and in critical condition. By chance, a priest was going down that same road, and when he saw the wounded man, he crossed over to the other side and passed by. Then a Levite who was on his way to assist in the temple also came and saw the victim lying there, and he too kept his distance.”

There are times in our lives when we are like this traveler. We are just walking along; minding our own business; doing the things that necessary, ordinary, mundane, routine. But then something happens. For this guy it was a couple of robbers jumping out, stealing from him, beating him, and leaving him alone to die.

What can it be for us? Sometimes, it is a terrible, tragic event: sickness, death, rejection. These things come from nowhere, surprise us, beat us down, and leave us wondering what just happened.
However, sometimes, the problems in our lives are more insidious; they run even deeper than a tragic event. Sometimes we have been taught lessons from early in life that we find difficult to overcome.

You are worthless.

You are a failure.

You cannot cope by yourself—you need to drink something, smoke something, or shoot something up.

Your only value is what you can offer someone sexually.

And we believe these messages. We hear them over and over so much that we believe they are true.

And we feel like the guy lying on the side of the road: beaten, robbed, left for dead.

And unfortunately, the very people who should be helping us out, picking us up, helping us to recover do nothing more than add to the pain. Just like the priest and the Levite, too often the religious people—the Christian people—we know are too busy to help. Or they look at us, see our lives, and run to the other side of the street to avoid getting to close us.

So no one ever tells us anything different. All we hear is that we are worthless, hopeless, a mess, a wretch, nothing more than garbage to be cast aside.

In the stage production/movie Les Miserables, the character Fantine sings the song I Dreamed a Dream. In the song she pours out her soul as she laments the course her life has taken. At one point of the song she talks about how she had been mistreated:
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came.
Fantine has been hurt, treated like garbage, and cast aside. Yet do you know what the next line she sings is? “But still I dream he’ll come to me.”

Wait a second, how could she want that? How could she want this terrible man to come back into her life? What sense does that make?

However, I think in our darkest, weakest moments, all of us know exactly why Fantine would do it.

Because we have done it, too. We have bought into the lies that we are worthless and unlovable and that if anyone will show us attention we better hang on to them. We have bought into the lies that we are not good enough to be treated any better.

And we have gone back to those things that have hurt us.

We have been on our knees with our heads in a toilet, retching our guts out in a drunken stupor proclaiming that we will never drink again; only to find ourselves in the same position 24 hours later.

We have looked at the needle in our veins and promised that we are never going to do this to ourselves again, yet we are taking that next hit before we can even get the words out of our mouths.

We have promised that we will never allow our bodies to be used as little more than a piece of meat for someone else’s entertainment only to wake up to the sound of door closing leaving us in the room all alone yet again.

We have continued to believe that we are robbed, beaten up, lying on the side of the road dying, while everyone in the world is just passing us by.

But…

You. Are. Not. Cast. Aside.

You are not forgotten. You are not a piece of rubbish to be discarded.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, someone does show up to take care of the man on the side of the road. And just a few pages later, in Luke 15, there are three stories of things that are lost being found.

A man with 100 sheep sees that one is missing and he goes off to find the missing one. Because each sheep has value; each sheep has worth. The shepherd would never say, “That sheep means nothing to me.”

Then a woman with 10 coins loses one and tears her house apart looking for it. We think that’s crazy, right? Who would care that much? I mean, she still has nine coins, right? We ask those questions because we have bought into the lie that we have no value. We tell ourselves, “Who cares about us? We are just one person on a planet of 6 billion. So who cares?” This parable tells us that God does. God believes we have worth. We are worth the world to Him. We are worth His Son to Him.

Then we read the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son who found himself believing he had no worth. He planned to go back and tell his father, “Make me one of your servants.” But on his way home, the father was watching. And while he was still a long way off….

The father runs to him. Before the son can finish his rehearsed speech, the father basically says, “Shut up. We’re gonna throw a party!”

Because the Prodigal Son matters to the Father.

Because the man lying on the side of the road matters to God.

Because you are valuable. Because you have worth. Because you are a son or a daughter of God. And He loves you.

When we sing, like Fantine, “life has killed this dream I dreamed,” God weeps.

Because that is not what He wants for you. You matter to Him. You are valuable to Him. God loves you.

And that is the truth.

Because I’m not Catholic

Too often, we try to define ourselves by what we are not. I grew up in New England. For 5 years, I served as the minister for a congregation in western New York. A lot of what I did or did not do in church centered on the fact that I wasn’t Catholic.

That bothers me a lot more than it used to.

Because I was not Catholic, I would not recite the Lord’s Prayer. After all, that’s what the Catholics do. I could quote the 23rd Psalm. I could recite I Corinthians 13. Some people I knew could quote entire books of the Bible. But I could not recite Matthew 6:9-13 because that is what the Catholics do.

Because I was not Catholic, I ignored the role Mary plays in my Christian existence. She is the mother of Jesus; that’s pretty awesome. In fact, Luke 1 states that all generations will call Mary blessed. Think about it: a teenage girl is approached by an angel of God, told she will give birth to a son even though she is a virgin, and this son will alter the course of human history. And she replies with, “May it be to me as you have said.” That is a pretty incredible example. But because the Catholics venerate Mary, I simply ignored her.

I think many Christians have missed out on a lot because they wanted to show they were not Catholic. Lent begins tomorrow. And even though the practice of Lent has been around since before the Catholic Church was the Catholic Church, we ignored it growing up because that’s what the Catholics do.

How much depth and richness have we missed out on simply because we are afraid we are going to look too much like people from another Christian group?

I look forward to participating in Lent again this year. I will give something up as I have done each of the last three years. I am grateful to attend a church that has an Ash Wednesday service. I will receive the ashes tomorrow as a reminder that I came from dust and to dust I will return. I will acknowledge that much of my existence is broken and sinful. For forty days, I will remember that the sacrifice I am making now pales in comparison to the sacrifice of Jesus.

And on Easter Sunday I will shout with joy.

Because I’m not a Catholic. I am a Christian. Just like those I grew up in church with; just like those in the church where I preached; just like those I assemble with now; and just like those people I tried so hard not to be like.

I Am Sick of Being Fine

I suffer from a chronic illness. It’s called “Being Fine.” I have been fine a lot. Many days I tell people I am fine. In fact, a common response when asked how I am is, “Fine.”

What a crock.

Now don’t get me wrong: most of the time I am feeling pretty good. Most days I am able to cope with all that life throws at me. The majority of the time I am a well-adjusted man approaching middle age.

But when I say, “I’m fine”, chances are pretty good I’m lying through my teeth.

So why do I do it? Why do I tell people I’m fine? I blame two people: me and you.

I blame myself for obvious reasons. If I am struggling I should reach out for help. If I am hurting I should ask for relief. If I am in need I should ask people who have plenty.
But I don’t. I don’t want you to know that I am struggling, or hurting, or in need. I want you to think I am completely self-sufficient all the time. So I blame myself.

But I also blame you. Because when you ask me how I feel, you don’t want to know. You want to hear that I’m doing fine. Because if I tell you that I am fine you can tell me you are fine and we can both go on our separate ways. You see, if I dare tell you I’m hurting, you may just have to open up and talk about your hurts, too.

How much of our hurting could be lessened if we would all be honest? I’m not suggesting we all turn into a bunch of whiners and complainers, but when we are truly hurting perhaps we should admit it. Maybe if we stop thinking we need to put on a mask of invincibility we could avoid the pain that comes from isolating ourselves. And telling people we are fine is indeed a form of isolation.

So how do we overcome this vicious illness?

Be honest with your question. Only ask someone how they are doing when you are ready and willing to hear the answer. Don’t let people give you some brush off answer and get away with it. Look them in the eye and say, “How are you?”

Be honest with your answer. You don’t have to go into great detail. You don’t have to give your entire life story. But you can simply say, “I’m hurting right now,” or, “I just need a little encouragement.”

It amazes and saddens me to know that when I assemble with 2000+ people at church on Sunday morning, almost all of them will say they are fine. And maybe for the majority of them, that is probably true.

When I walk across the campus I attend with over 4000 students, everyone says they are fine. And most days, they probably are.

But how many people are hurting and putting on a mask for everyone to see? Am I paying attention? Am I missing the signs, the words, the clues that something else is going on? Am I too busy to concern myself with someone else’s life? Are my eyes set on where I am going instead of the person right in front of me? Am I one of the ones pretending to be fine when in truth I need someone to hear me, encourage me, cry with me, pray with me?

I suffer from being fine. I would venture to guess that you do, too. How about we make a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to God to start being honest with each other—it’s the only cure I know.