Letting Go of the “Evangelical American Dream”

fiction

I thought by 32, I would own a quaint house with a white picket fence, and that my at least 2 children would be running around in my perfectly groomed yard. This is pretty funny when I actually take time to think about it, because I am not at all a “June Cleaver” type. I mean, I can barely keep my room clean, let alone an entire house!

And, who would upkeep that perfectly groomed yard and white picket fence? Not me, I will tell you that much. Also, kids; I want them, I really do, but I have watched singles and couples with small children, and even the thought stresses me out. Yes, I know, “It’s worth it when they are sleeping or when they are sick and cuddle more,” but what about the other 65% of the time?

Children demand that we lay down most of our selfish ways. They really do, and I don’t know if I am ready to be inconvenienced to that degree. But, it is more than that too. I have struggled with chronic pain for most of my life, and I am afraid that I would not be physically able to carry, birth, and then chase a kid around for 18 years!

Health issues have really put a drain on my “Evangelical American Dream” account. No young person plans on dealing with health issues in their teens, 20s, and 30s. When one has health issues that are chronic, it effects a person’s entire life: marriage, family, friendships, finances, career, vacation, emotions, spirituality, mind, fitness, diet, and the list goes on.

My husband and I had no idea how much health issues would get in our way as a young Christian couple, chasing our dreams. The truth is though, many young singles and couples are dealing with heath issues. Even children are dealing with health issues (God bless them and their parents). Some mothers and fathers are unable to have their own biological children and some couples are forced to work through the unimaginable tragedy of outliving their biological children.

Life is not fair. This is a true statement, but it is a statement that can easily turn into, “Life is not fair, so I don’t have to be fair.” This second way of thinking is far from our God’s heart to restore justice and righteousness to both the world and to the Christian Church.

I think that we have got some things wrong in the evangelical American world, that we need to get right. Firstly, achieving the “American Dream” may not be possible for everyone (or maybe anyone). It has not been possible (so far) for my husband and me, who both came from somewhat privileged families, both have master’s degrees from a reputable evangelical Christian university, and both have supportive parents who are still alive and still married.

My husband and me both thought that we would be climbing the correct career ladders by now – you know, the careers we actually went to college and grad school to pursue! It turns out that my husband is climbing a career ladder, not in his field, and I am building my own career ladder so that my “ministry sisters” and me actually have a career ladder to climb one day.

Oh you didn’t know; there is no career ladder for women ministers in the evangelical church. Well, I guess you could climb from being the church secretary to being the children’s pastor. Some women may become worship or youth pastors, but that will probably be taken away from them when they get older and their church decides that they want a “young man” to become the new worship or youth pastor.

It is my opinion that the evangelical American church taught its youth that they could dream a great big “God dream” and it would happen if we only trusted God and the American process (college, career, marriage, home, kids, etc…). This is a nationalistic approach to Christianity, and literally has nothing to do with Christ; but hey, it sounded good and it motivated millions of teens to set high goals. I can do all things through Christ, right?

It was this idea of, “Just follow the rules, and everything will turn out just right. You may even become “famous for Jesus” in whatever field He has called you to.” We love formulas, don’t we? Formulas make sense to our human brains. Just do X, Y, and Z, and everything will be just peachy! The problem is that NONE of this is true and that there are NO guarantees that life will work out the way we want it to or think it is supposed to.

As American evangelicals, many of us have grown up to find ourselves disappointed that we don’t yet have a spouse, own our own home, have enough education, have children, have the right career or enough finances, a decent car, nice vacations, a successful ministry, a church building, and the list goes on.

We learn how to pretend like we have it all together; the last thing we need is MORE “evangelical American” (a potent mix of religion and patriotism) judgement! 

Most of us are shocked at how much life can really suck and we find ourselves unhappy. So, how do we reconcile the disappointments of life and all of the shattered dreams with the goodness of God? Especially when we have been taught since birth that life is supposed to be a dream, as long as we got Jesus by our side.

Firstly, we accept the truth that life is not fair for anyone and that there are many people who have it way worse than we do. That does not mean we don’t deal with the emotions of loss, pain, and continuous struggle. We do, we must! Facing pain is part of being a Christian. We are called to “take up our cross and follow Christ” (Matthew 16:24). We cannot overcome our difficulties if we are unwilling to “lean into the pain” and go through the process of “working it out.”

Secondly, we partner with God to bring about justice and wholeness to both our own lives and to the lives of others. This starts with us viewing God as our teammate, rather than our dictator. God wants us to work with the Divine, not for the Divine. God does not want to “use” us; God wants to “mold” us for real Kingdom work (work that is usually not all that glamorous & “celebrity-ish”).

We see God’s face and values, by looking at the life and ways of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was all about restoring justice – making things as fair and as right as possible in an unfair and unrighteous world. Yes, Jesus wants us to work towards our personal “happiness” and “dreams,” but these things are not the goals of the Christian life.

The Christian life is about following Christ, laying down dreams if need be for your greater calling, finding wholeness, and distributing peace, light and good “flavor” out into the world (Matt. 5:13-16).

When Christians are so busy chasing their Evangelical American dream, we can easily forget about God’s desire that we find wholeness in Christ, trust the oh so painful processes of life, and then offer wholeness to the community that God has placed around us. Of course, this is all done in and through the power of love.

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8 Comments

  • Your diagram cracks me up!! It is so true, and such good irony. You expect to see “ahhhh” or “arrived” or “promises fulfilled”. It is a jolt to see “fiction”–haha! But it is also a great relief…to realize none of those things are attainable and we have indeed been sold a bill of goods IF we have believed lies of our culture, Christian and secular. No climbing ladders in Gods ways, but callings and followings and listenings and trusting. My prayers for your health.

  • I too have a daily struggle with pain. Luckily for me I had my two children before the chronic pain. I feel you are being responsible by not having children if you know that it would be too much to have children. Having children is wonderful, but you need to have lots of energy to raise them properly.
    I love your honesty and wisdom with ” Letting Go of theAmerican Evangelical Dream”.
    I wish I had heard your message years ago…

  • I discovered some years ago that I had been sold a lie by the Evangelical Church. The funny thing is that once I made peace with it, I finally found my freedom and truly began to live. Honey, this post right here is life!

  • Chronic pain derailed my life about 12 years ago, and I had to let go of alot of things, especially achievements. You just can’t be a busy worker bee when you are barely functional physically.

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