lenten 2024 blog interns

New Year with No Dreams

Dreams are overrated.

I understand that sounds a bit bleak, especially with this new year and our collective societal obsessions with goals and new beginnings. But recently I have learned I am not a dreamer. Plain and simple. When I tell this to people, they seem a bit confused and then there is a following response along the lines of “well don’t say that.” I appreciate the etiquette, but I am actually very content with not having big dreams or deeply specific goals for my life. Again, bleak.

One of my dear friends is a chronic dreamer. Every day he wakes up with a mentality that he can be or do whatever he wants with his day, his life. This is how most of us wake up I imagine, with at least a little bit of autonomy and hope. Regardless, most of us might take this autonomy and freedom to dream to the extent that we can change up our morning routine, maybe wear jeans to work instead of slacks – forget it, even get fast food for dinner.

My friend dreamt he could wake up and be a cowboy in Montana, climb his way up to the top of a corporate ladder, go into carpentry, be an inventor of the next big revolutionary piece of furniture, join the military, move to Alaska or Hawaii, be an expert sailor. Perhaps his biggest dream was traveling the world and getting to come back home to a perfect little house on top of a hill.

I recently heard someone else say they feel like their dreams are obligations to accomplish, some type of self-achievement checklist that allows them to believe they have lived a life that was meaningful and purposeful. I wonder if the weight of all these dreams made him feel a bit trapped by them?

For myself, with the exception of perhaps having a beautiful clawfoot bathtub one day, there are not many things I actively desire and deeply want for my life – at least not in the same respect as my friend. I don’t have dreams. No big bucket list I am anxious about completing. See, it’s not that I don’t have any ambition or motivation for my life. However, I am not convinced I am the one who propels most of what happens within it. They say the Christian life is one of intense cooperation with God, but it is impossible to reach out and join hands with God when they are tightly clinging to our self-created dreams and expectations. The wonderful Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and writer, puts it a bit more succinctly in his work Turn my Mourning into Dancing where he writes:

“When we stop grasping our lives, we can finally be given more than we could ever grab for ourselves.” It was a bit confusing to find this quote, so clearly articulating what I have slowly been realizing, in a book revolving around embracing and struggling with grief. When I asked my dreamer friend if he had any New Year’s resolutions he shrugged and said, “Oh just the same ones I write down every year,” and then grief made sense.

How many of us are grasping so tightly onto wild dreams and old resolutions just so we can avoid the grief of reality; the reality that our lives might not look the way we want them to? Aren’t we all a bit desperate to avoid a reality where we have substantially less control than we believe we do, if any at all, over our own lives and the lives of other people?

Lately, I have been leaning into the idea of God’s Will. Not the pop culture definitions that uses God’s Will as a scapegoat or the version where whatever I do in my life doesn’t really matter- none of that. I believe in the Will where I am invited to intensely cooperate with God.

I believe God’s Will is to love my neighbor and my enemy. My only responsibility is to build and embrace a heart where this love can live itself out. How exactly that looks is not for me to dream up. When I look back at the past year, I see so clearly how my life has been full of more maturity, friendship, struggle, forgiveness, endurance, accomplishments, learning, direction, and joy than I could have ever dreamt for myself. I trust God with my desire to have a fulfilling and loving life, so I give it up to Him to figure out the details of how that all plays out.

Perhaps my friend gripped his dreams so tightly because he didn’t have a trustworthy place to set them down. Maybe he didn’t have a place where there is no crushing, suffocating expectations or somewhere free of the lie that we can earn love and purpose and worth. I find this place is Christ.

See, I don’t have any real desire for dreams because I’ve learned I’m not in control, or even possession, of my life anyways. My life was given to me to be given to others.

I am by no means a saint and fail at this countless times, but I do my best to give away my life –that is my effort, thought, heart, hope, friendship, service, talents– to whatever and whoever has been given to me. We grasp things desperately: stability, hope, dreams, when we are afraid of what will happen when we let go. Perhaps we think we’ll be letting go of our only shot at purpose, fulfillment, success, confidence, predictability, hope, or even love. Of course we cling to dreams. But like Nouwen alluded to, when we come to life, when I come to God, with open hands, an open heart, and the intention of giving what was given, we can receive much more than what we clung to in the first place.

With all integrity, I admire deeply how much hope my dreamer friend could cultivate within his life and use it to inspire others. By all means, go travel the world, be a cowboy in Montana, create that piece of furniture, please get to that lovely house on top of the hill. Lots of people write down the same old resolutions, and that’s fine, but hopefully we are not writing these down and clinging to them thinking they will help us avoid reality and the unknown.

Embrace everything that happens and everything that didn’t, but don’t get stuck there. I’ll end with a quote from St. Gregory Nazianzen:

“Do not let your troubles distress you too much. For the less we grieve over things, the less grievous they are.”

Cheers to a year full of gratitude and embracement and courage, a year of relief instead of grief!

Cecelia Olsen




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