“Here I am, between my flock and my treasure, the boy thought. He had to choose between something he had become accustomed to and something he wanted to have.” –The Alchemist
I used to have a reoccurring vision when I was in high school, a mental image that I held onto for years. It was me driving off into a sunset, jamming to Miranda Lambert’s “New Strings,” headed to Nasvhille, TN en route to a college career at Vanderbilt University where I would experience a new chapter of my life in a correspondingly new place. I had everything down to the playlist that I planned on listening to as I drove out of Hattiesburg planned to a T. And I was ready, ready to chase a dream that I was so certain was mine for the taking. As time trickled by, a decision to chase my dream of playing college tennis accompanied my striving towards becoming a Commodore. But little did I know, my end goal would never be achieved in the manner I had planned and even wanted. Rather, my decision to chase that dream never to be caught brought me down a road that birthed a new dream, a dream to experience a new chapter of life in a town that I became proud to be a representative and resident of. Yes, I became a Golden Eagle student athlete, an end destination I would never had planned on and a past roadmap I wouldn’t change for the world. My planned 7 hour jam session to Miranda en route to Vandy ended up being a 15 minute jam sesh.
At that point in my life, I think I had talked myself into believing that not all dreams have purpose in coming true. In fact, we learn to give up on dreams that seem unrealistic and stupid when the world tells us they are as such. Though my dreams shifted and changed, they only did so after I made a decision to go after something I wanted: college tennis. And from that point on, the pathway that got me there showed me a new dream while simultaneously going after the original dream. In other words, it took a decision to go after something for me to begin a journey to a destination I would have never known if I had never made that decision in the first place. Although the dream changed during the journey, it took having a dream and going after it to get me to where I truly wanted to be. And as a recent college graduate with little grasp on this strange season of life, I think I’ve forgotten how to dream outside of compromise–how to want something that makes little sense and plunge headfirst into it. Although it has only been a few short years, I’ve lost touch with an 18 year-old me who realized the power of going after something you want and the lack of planning ability necessary for one to do so. And it makes me sad to think that it takes reading a fiction book (The Alchemist) to remind me of what the past four years have taught me. I had forgotten a language of life that believed in crushing the expectations of others, an alchemy of believing in outrageous outcomes because of an outrageous God.
Expectations are some of the most cruelly confining things you can place on a person. Good or bad, they assume something set in your brain is going to happen a certain way or in a certain manner. They create disappointment, short-lived fulfillment, and a co-mingling with the future that we have no business meddling with. They are fasteners of time, which in itself only seems like a made-up measurement used to deal with life and all that’s in it, set upon persons or situations in order to predict, confine, and prepare for what is to come. As a recent college graduate that has no grip on his life or its direction, I can speak from experience that expectations choke the ability to embrace things not expected, to live life in the moment, and to let go of the silly thought of having it all together. My life has never looked like the blueprints I create for it. It didn’t when I was in high school and it doesn’t when I’m in young adulthood (term used loosely).
I think that the organization of things kills something about them. Religion, education, time… We immediately seek to organize aspects of our life that are not already clearly defined. Lack of definition, a lack of clarity in understanding is an immediate red flag to us, because it insinuates that we have no freaking clue what we’re talking about, and heaven forbid admitting an inability to control something important. People claiming to have everything exactly correct or together bring a confused smile to my face… two reasons 1) I kind of wish I felt that way but 2) I realize that such a claim is never really an honest one, no matter how smart, wise or experienced one is. At this point in my life, I feel a certain expectation to have a projected path, some sort of occupational success-trail mapped in every decision and intention I make and possess. The pressures of falling inside the lines of this organized phase of life where it seems the majority of people around me are getting married, getting jobs, moving to new cities, and carrying on a sort of script that seems par for the course of one’s early-mid twenties are a bit overwhelming at times. Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with any of the above mentioned activities, but the thought of being organized, in control, and expectant of anything outside the current moment seems a silly concept to me. Because it has always been the current moment that changed whatever I had “organized” for my future.
When we box in life, we box in who controls and gives that life. We do it because it makes us feel like we understand something that isn’t and can’t be understood perfectly. Sometimes, I wonder how pissed God gets when Christians bicker about things of Scripture, for example, to the point that people claim “ultimate truth” over someone else’s “wrong” opinion… when that ultimate truth is simply their passionately demonstrated opinion. You can read Scripture all day long and will probably have some starkly contrasting insight with the majority of people who read the same text. Perhaps instead of being right on an opinion or insight from Scripture, God wants us to embrace an ambiguity of some things in this life, a certain ambiguity that stems from Himself, a God that we cannot possibly grasp and understand…a God who yet still remains unchanging… a God we will never have “all together” in our minds. Yet, we treat Him like a pie to be pieced section by section when we take what He gives us as something that fits into manmade cookie-cutter compartments. Maybe the organization we and religion like to associate with God is simply our inherent desire to get a grip on our crap. Maybe that organization/programming has less to do with an infinite God and more to do with a finite way of thinking, a containable outlook on life and it’s Maker purposed to give us an “easier-to-understand” set of norms and expectations to adhere to during our lifetime.
I think it’s safe to say that I am a dreamer. I yearn for things that make absolutely no sense. Seriously. Short list of things I love: photography, art, traveling the world, old buildings, writing, decaying pieces of wood, the beach, coffee, Christmas lights, and Louisiana Hot Sauce Pork Skins. If you want to make sense of that, be my guest. If there is anybody that is too comfortable not fitting the early-twenties American male college graduate mold… it’s me. I think the inability to compromise what I love and want in this life for what I feel I should want and love in this life is precisely the guilt-trip that makes this season such a murky one. When to sacrifice dreams for more realistic ventures… When to make yourself prepare for marriage and family… When to shut up the yearnings of what you want in exchange for what you are accustomed to. And I’m tired of that struggle of guilt, and even more unsure that it merits a presence in the first place.
When we give up on the dreams or yearnings of what we want to do, we are giving into expectation and organization of life. We are afraid of losing what we have. Afraid to not take what is already accustomed to us because of its availability, afraid to believe in a God bigger than the man-made lot restrictions our “organizings” and expectations have portrayed Him as. The more life-seasons that pass, the more affirmation I receive that deciding to go get what you want is the first step in the journey there. But, to our usual surprise, actually getting what you originally decided you wanted is perhaps less important than the path that takes you there. It takes a leap of faith, a “dreamer’s” logic, and new spin on an ancient language to go against what is expected and organized for you and embrace what it is God’s given you desire and passion for. I believe in a language that everyone can understand, an understanding, an alchemy of all peoples. A language that doesn’t confine one’s wants and dreams into a pre-made box, an understanding that we are able to do things outside of expectation because we are fueled by a God outside of expectation. And somehow, between Jesus’ time and now, we’ve plum forgotten how to speak even the basics. As a society at large, we have forgotten what it’s like to truly believe in that kind of life-understanding. And I think we have talked ourselves into liking it that way, liking planned compromises over unknown and risky dreams because they “make more sense.” But passion can’t be created in compromise. It can’t always be distributed amongst the most comfortable activities. It can only be placed where it is given, and not following it where it is given is an acceptance of its lack in everything else you do. Believing in the dreams you’ve held for so long, believing in this language of old, means believing in the God that gave them to you. A compromised view of what you can do in this world is a compromised perception of who God can be/what God can do. But an Airstream’s alchemy is one that doesn’t get set-in-stone. An Airstream alchemy has no expectations or organization of roots in any place because it realizes that planting such roots would be compromising what it wants and therefore choosing a route without passion. This language is a common understanding in us all that enables us to see more of who God is through believing we can do more through Him. That’s the language we are so sucking at. We are too quick to choose what’s immediately accessible and available to us rather than a far-off dream that holds our highest concentration of passion and desire, when that might be the precise leap of faith we are purposed to take.
I’m not saying that all dreams come true. I’m not saying that all dreams should come true. Life happens, responsibilities kick in, and living out dreams becomes a foreign concept solely alienated to children’s books and Disney movies. But I am saying that there is no organization or expectation that we can put on our lives if we truly believe an infinite God is calling the shots. The only thing we can expect is for God to show up, blow our minds, and break everything we take such pride in knowing to pieces. And if we are given a desire and passion to do something that sounds absolutely crazy, maybe we should live a language that shouts confidence in a mind-blowing God capable of taking us there.
Here’s the skinny: don’t fit the mold. When it comes down to it, the mold isn’t even real. We make it up so we feel better about ourselves and can gauge success with a mass-produced measurement. We organize in resistance to what tells us we can’t (God, life, etc.). When we experience what cannot be contained, we don’t understand that. But instead of stopping there, we create something we can understand and proceed to cling to it in exchange for what we can’t.
There might not be another person on Earth that understands/makes any sense of what I’m saying, but if there is, don’t be afraid to want something. Even more so, don’t be afraid to want something AND go get it. And don’t be afraid to piss off the social norms and expectations in the process. I’m pretty sure Jesus made a nice little habit of doing that exact thing… Be like Him. If we claim to be Christians, we are supposed to point others to the fullness of our God, not the abridged version. Our lives are our ministries–if we live them adhering to man-made expectations and organizations of a God who adheres to neither, what does that say about both Christians and the God we are misrepresenting? Live a language that shows people the inability of words (and any other organization we can think of) to depict God’s fullness and the fullness of life He has to offer.
Making a decision to go after something you want is the beginning of a learning process that can only be absorbed through experience. You can’t expect anything, you can’t map out the way to get there– you only get this moment. Then, the next. Then, the next. Only the present is relative to being obedient to Christ, but we do have to do something with/in it. Whether going after the passions of your heart leads you across the world or back to where you are accustomed, go after them. Because not doing so shows a lack of faith in yourself and your Maker, and an unhealthy confidence in a made-up ladder of “standard” life. Your destination might be more a journey than you think, regardless of whether you get what you set out for or not. Have the guts to have a dream. Let it kickstart you on a journey that leads you into a brand new understanding of a God that cannot be organized into our pretty little boxes.
Climbing in the Airstream. No maps. No plans. No expectations. No organization. Just a whole bunch of passions that don’t make sense, enough crazy to pull out of the driveway, and a Spirit that has no boundaries. Let’s rewrite a language that believes in things that don’t make sense.
P.s.- Go read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Extremely, extremely inspiring.