I love listening to my children tell me about their futures. They have all kinds of dreams about all kinds of things. They each know, for example, what they’re going to be when they grow up. Out of three sons, all three are going to play professional sports of one kind or another. Maybe I don’t need to keep investing in this 401k!
I tend to respond as the dream crusher. It’s not that I don’t like them thinking about their futures (a future-orientation is essential to human flourishing); it’s more that I want them thinking realistically about their futures. I want my son, for example, who once told me he wanted to be a NASA engineer to actually get excited about studying for his math test.
It’s a lot easier to imagine some ideal future than to take the necessary life steps that lead there.
Some who are reading this are already cringing. “Follow your dreams” is the John 3:16 of American Individualism, and we’re not supposed to question American orthodoxy. This is the land of the free, which apparently means we are all free to do and become anything we want.
But what if “Follow your dreams” is actually bad advice? What if “Follow your dreams” is actually getting in the way of the better future God intends for you to have?
I’ve always been struck by Jesus’ post-resurrection conversation with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35. The two disciples are walking along and are clearly dejected. They had just witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus, the one they thought was going to save the world. We don’t get the actual words of their conversation, but it had to include painful reflections on what it feels like to have dreams crushed.
As the two walk along, they are joined by a stranger. Neither realizes it initially, but the stranger is actually the resurrected Jesus. He asks them to elaborate further on their discussion, and they respond with the Cliff’s Notes version of the events leading to his death. Then one of them says, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (v. 21).
I think we can all relate with that statement, “But we had hoped…” How many times do we face disappointment in life? How many times do we dream about the future only to be let down? How rarely does the promising new job really turn out the way we imagined? How seldom does the marriage really fulfill all of our hopes and dreams?
But here’s the irony of the situation: The dream that these two disciples had about Jesus and what they expected him to do was actually the very thing that was keeping them from seeing what Jesus had actually accomplished. They were so sure that Jesus had come to save them from suffering that they totally missed Jesus coming to save them through his own suffering.
Could your dreams be in the way, also? I believe that some of us are so in love with our dreams about the future that we are completely missing the calling that God has placed on our lives toward faithfulness in the actual present. It’s not helpful to dream about an ideal life in the future as a way of escaping the uncomfortable present.
The way of Jesus is the way of embracing the life we have been given by the grace of God. The life we are called to live is the life we actually have, not the ideal life of our imagination.
Jesus continues the conversation by showing the two disciples how the whole entire Old Testament was about him (v. 27). He’s not asking them to stop thinking about the future. He’s asking them to throw away their version of the story and to replace it with his. He’s inviting them to join his story instead of trying to write their own.
The cross of Jesus is where our dreams go to die. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees us that the future God has planned for us is infinitely better than anything we could have ever imagined.
Our dreams aren’t real. God’s eternal promises come with a guarantee. He’s walking down the road to Emmaus. Will you follow him?