The Tyranny of the “American Dream”

Somewhere along the way, Christian theology got hijacked by Horatio Algiers’s concept of the “American dream.”

And it’s pissing me off.

Before teaching I never truly realized how much pressure American society and well-meaning adults (and kids themselves) place on young adults to “succeed,” to “find themselves,” to choose a good career long before most teens have any idea what they actually love doing or what they’re good at.

We imply that life’s pathway is a narrow road winding through steep hills on a lone journey toward … something. we. can’t. define.  
The entrance is a tiny little gate labeled “What I’m Supposed To Do With My Life.”
And most of us were pretty stressed out over the whole deal between 17 and 25.

By contrast, I’ve come to understand better lately just how big the “will of God” is.

I’m noticing that my hardworking, productive, Kingdom-oriented adult friends didn’t follow any such voodoo.  Many of us simply graduated from college or high school, scoured around for a job, and took the next step.  The “lucky” ones got 3 or 4 or 10 job offers and had to flip coins or pray for slammed doors to help them make the decision.  The rest of us had one or two basic options in our practical reach, and we picked the one that made the most sense at the time.

Since then, life has twisted and turned and gone entirely differently than any of us could have expected.  Nearly half of college grads don’t even work in their major field. Really.

For me, I’m spending my days (and nights) teaching kids, building relationships (with occasional success), working out the theology of grace-based education (hopefully with more success), and thinking about how to spread relational, grace-based models of Christian education into the classical education movement and beyond.  This wasn’t what I signed up for 7 years ago, or anything I “prepared for” in college — yet, by Providence, I amprepared. More or less. 

God’s will isn’t some private, gated community to which only a few people have the proper keypad combination. The Kingdom is broad. The work of redemption offers multiple avenues.

Making your life count for something isn’t as hard as we make it. Sin’s effects are so ubiquitous, you can’t set foot anywhere without finding a task that needs attention; a new ministry to start; some vision of peace and healing and creation to unfold.

Neither has God left us clueless — I desperately want my students to realize God didn’t make a mistake when He created them with certain desires, a particular package of talents and gifts. Choosing the “practical” career over pursuing their own gifts usually ends in frustration, extra years in college, or an unhappy working life.  Somewhere along the way, we stopped teaching kids that God intends us to enjoy life.

We need to release our children from the tyranny of the American dream. 

My life is not my own to waste as I please, chasing some self-defined notion of happiness — and yet it is my own toenjoy in abundance as I develop the abilities to do what God built me to enjoy.

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