Did you watch the State of the Union address last week by President Trump? I did, and a few things really stood out to me. Some things he said I liked, some things he said I did not like. Some things I resonated with, others left me with more questions. One phrase that the President used more than once was “the American dream”. I have heard this phrase all of my life, and to be honest I have always liked the sound of it. But as I have grown older my reaction to the phrase has changed. The feeling that came over me as I heard the phrase used on that Tuesday night was one of emptiness. The American dream is something that is supposedly full of purpose and prosperity, and I certainly desire for all to find those things in their lives, but I have my doubts that the “American dream” can deliver it to us. Now, don’t hear what I am not saying (or in this instance, don’t read what I’m not writing). I love America, and I love freedom. I am willing to fight and sacrifice for both of these things. But I have also seen what this “dream” has done for many who have sought after it. At times it has brought some prosperity and no purpose, sometimes it has delivered purpose without the prosperity, many times it does not deliver either of them.
Somewhere along the way American Christians decided that their country is God’s country, and that the American dream is God’s dream for Americans. I don’t believe this is true. I certainly hope its not true. If God’s desire for his people is to gain the American dream, He is a smaller God than I ever realized. If the purpose of life is to gain whatever I can muster up in my mind to desire, it would suddenly seem very worthless. Surely we are meant for more than prosperity and happiness. The truth is, most people spend their entire lives searching and fighting for those two things. Happiness is the ultimate goal, and we are told that prosperity brings that happiness to us. I don’t know about you, but I am starting to believe that we have been lied to.
It is based almost solely on materialism.
Making money is a good thing, you can’t survive without it. But one of the problems with the American dream is that it develops a desire for material satisfaction and ignores the more important parts of ones life. This mindset gives the idea that money and possessions will help with all other needs, like emotional needs, or spiritual needs, or the way one views himself. We should all be aware that money and possessions can’t satisfy the deeper needs in our lives. Especially after we have seen so many prosperous people take their own lives or admit that they have never felt satisfied. Perhaps this is why Jesus said “How does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul” (Matthew 8). Jesus is telling us what we already know deep down, sometimes you can lose when you gain. Gaining physically could mean losing spiritually.
It can’t be defined.
When does one accomplish their goal of gaining? When has someone reached the pinnacle of the American dream? I am not sure that the pursuit of the dream ever really stops. It seems to me that the more one gains, the more one wants to gain. I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do know that there are millions of people caught up in chasing a dream that I am not sure they can even describe or define.
It has encouraged student debt.
It is hard to afford college now days, but if you want to be successful you have to get a degree, right? Not necessarily. I know way to many people who barely made it through high school and they make more money than a guy like me who has a Bachelors and Masters degree. Don’t get me wrong, I am passionate about education and will always encourage people to pursue it. But not at the expense of their future families. The majority of college students today are taking out loans so they can afford to get the degree that is supposed to make them more money. The problem is that for the first 10 to 15 years in their career they will be using that degree to pay off the loans it took to get them there. There has to be a better way. Perhaps the cost of solid education could cost less than a house? Ya, your right, thats a stupid idea. While our young people are chasing the dream, they are getting into debt that they have no idea how to get out of.
It has left people empty.
Somewhere along the way many hard working men and women discover that they have been chasing something that is unattainable. On top of that discovery is the realization that what you do end up gaining is not really yours to keep. No one takes their American dream with them to the grave, although it seems that the stress from trying to gain the dream may get us there faster. If any of you feel empty right now, I promise you the American dream isn’t going to fill you up. It will feed your desire, but never satisfy it. If you truly want to find something to fill your life with meaning and purpose, you need to understand a few things that the American dream will never teach you.
1. You were created in the image of God.
You and I were created (see Genesis 1-3, its a fun couple of chapters). We haven’t arrived by accident, and we certainly aren’t here to fill a job space. The fact that we were created means that there must be a purpose, a reason, for us being created. Are you ready for this? It will give you some peace and show you a way out of the rat race that the American dream leads you into. We were created for a relationship with the Creator. Yep, it’s that simple. We have the privilege of worshipping and knowing the Creator of the universe. Pretty cool, huh? To make it even better, He could care less about the American dream, because He owns it all anyway. So join me in focusing your life on the one who owns everything, and not the ones who pretend that they do.
2. His kingdom is better than yours.
I am not saying this in the, “My dad is stronger than yours” way. I am saying this in the “nothing you do could ever equal what He has already done” way. Are you tired of trying to build your own kingdom? You should be. You are tired because you were never intended to build it in the first place. You were always meant to build God’s kingdom instead of your own. He doesn’t force us into this work, He allows us to take part in it. It is peaceful to live and work for something bigger and more important than yourself. It is an investment, and the returns are better than you can imagine (John 14:3; Philippians 3:20-21).
3. Jesus Christ is the only way to true freedom.
People chase the American dream because of the freedom that they think will be found there. They think that money will provide freedom, but it usually increases bondage. They think more stuff will give purpose, but it often gives burden. Jesus Christ actually addressed this issue in John 10:10. He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The they that Jesus is referring to here is you and me. Jesus wants you to know that apart from Him there really is no true freedom. Don’t fall for empty slogans and promises filled with hot air. There is a better way, you just have to be willing to let go of a desire to believe in something that promises but cant deliver. After all, they call it a dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.