Forsaking the American Dream

Does the pursuit of happiness and the appeal of the American Dream leave you feeling empty? Here's why and the truth about life.

I have had two conversations and read one book this month that have absolutely been rocking my world. The perspective has been from forsaking the American Dream. The interface of the central ideas from all three of these are the only things penetrating through the general fog and mentality of avoidance and disengagement.

The first conversation was a super-fast chat at the beginning of the month with my little brother. He is 16 and thinks deeper than I think I ever will. In the span of one conversation, all my notions of needing routine, stability and comfort were challenged. My idols of family, security, and the assumed trajectory of the American life were exposed. He brought up really good thoughts about whether these things are actually needs or whether we have been conditioned to think we need them.

The second conversation happened earlier this week with my good friend as we hiked and hammocked and lost track of time, deep in conversation. I brought up this sense of an underlying confusion regarding my need for predictability and security, and he brought up the immense shift of priorities that subconsciously has happened since graduation. We talked about risks we took then but were less likely to take now. We talked about how the concept of work and money seems to shroud all other motivations and decisions. And then we talked about how God fits into all of this.

To be completely honest, it scares me to DEATH to see how little of God there is in the American Dream we all seem to be blindly working towards, whether we want to or not.

I have actively tried NOT to pursue the American Dream, and yet I am caught up in the same desires, temptations, and thought patterns that are so susceptible to everyone – success, acceptance, prosperity, independence, purpose. It scares me to see how easy it is to create and live a life that seems to be going well, headed in a good direction, and God is not even part of the equation anymore because we have reached a point where we truly can sustain ourselves and have no lack.

In culmination, the book that has been rocking my world is The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns. He has seen it all, from climbing the ladder of corporate success to dedicating his life to helping the poorest and most forgotten. Even though I am only partway through the book, he slams all the questions I have been too afraid to ask right in your face.

To give a taste of the type of questions he poses and discusses regarding the American Dream:

  • Are you open to God’s will for your life?
  • Do you confuse your success with God’s approval?
  • Who decides your standard of righteousness?

There is more to this life than we live. I have known it for a while. I have seen and experienced glimpses of it during different stages of my life or through different experiences. However, the scary thing is that when things settle back to normal, we forget. We forget what it is like to be truly on Jesus’ team. Fighting for what he fights for, loving the people he loves, chasing the things he deems priorities. Because no one else is doing it. We are lulled into complacency or become fearful of taking risks in our faith. This is because it is not the status quo and because we ultimately do seek approval, security, routine, and success. Living the genuine Christian life jeopardizes all these things. We are more comfortable ignoring commands than we are with fulfilling them. What a broken, tepid spirit we have.

In his book, Richard Stearns talks about the three greatest commandments – loving God, loving our neighbors, and making disciples of others who will do the same. As I look back over my “normal” life, how often are these things exemplified?

Related Post: I’m a Christian but I Don’t Feel Close to God Anymore

This week I realized that I compartmentalize my faith.

I reserve the “loving God” command for Sunday mornings and daily devotions. I reserve the “loving my neighbors” command for my students and the kids in Jamaica.” I reserve the “making disciples” command for the girls I mentor in youth group. While these are valid fulfillments of these commandments in part, in actuality they are lazy attempts to shift my Christian duties to parts of my life where I can predict, control, and understand. I do not want those commands to commandeer my normal life – my career, my goals and aspirations, my friendships, my downtime.

As I read Richard Stearns’ list of “buts” regarding a decision and calling, I was almost sick. I could see myself justifying each of his rebuttals. I could see myself making the same list and weighing the pros and cons instead of bowing in prayer. And I could see the ways my heart has been repioritizing to make logical, safe, calculated decisions. This is rather than the risky, confusing, obedient decisions. It left me with this haunting question:

“What opportunities have I or will I miss because I’m too comfortable in my routine and lifestyle, too set in my plan and picture for my life?”

Joshua 24:15 poses a decision like this that is far too often quoted on an overeager and hopeful canvas, and the actual choice is lost: “CHOOSE for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” If you do not decide to choose God, the choice has already been made. It is so much easier to serve self and love the world than to love God and serve the world. Richard Stearns puts it like this: “To be a disciple means forsaking everything to follow Jesus, unconditionally, putting our lives completely in His hands. When we say that we want to be his disciple, yet attach a list of conditions, Jesus refuses to accept our terms. His terms involve unconditional surrender.”

So, what would it be like for me to live a life that starts with God instead of myself?

A heart to pray for opportunities to be generous with my time. Being generous with money and gifts rather than planning my ministry and scheduling my day so that in the end, it still serves me. Even if I am engaged in generous or ministry acts! What about a heart open to God’s will, even if it is not mine? A life dedicated to living and sharing the WHOLE gospel, not just the parts I want to follow?

2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…” We have no excuses because we have God’s power. It is not up to us and our power. However, it is up to us to decide to forgo our initiatives and the American dream for the sake of the gospel.

I will leave you with this powerful quote from The Hole in our Gospel: “Yet we are the carriers of the gospel – the good news that was meant to change the world. Belief is not enough. Worship is not enough. Personal morality is not enough. Christian community alone is not enough. God has always demanded more. When we commit ourselves to following Christ, we also commit to living our lives in such a way that a watching world would catch a glimpse of God’s character. A glimpse of His love, justice, and mercy through our words, actions, and behavior.God chose us to be His representatives. He called us to go out and to proclaim the ‘good news.’  To be the good news – and to change the world. Living out our faith privately is never an option.”

Question from Ali Anne, the author.

What does "living out the whole gospel" look like to you?

Written by Ali Anne

My mission for my life is to glorify God and genuinely love others, pointing them to Christ through my actions, words, and attitudes. I write reflections about my own faith journey so that others can learn more about God through my mistakes, my joys, my thoughts, and my experiences.

4 thoughts on “Forsaking the American Dream

  1. So incredible and timely. God has been stirring this notion inside of me, and this post really brought it all together. Thank you for writing this. Such a crucial message!

  2. “To be completely honest, it scares me to DEATH to see how little of God there is in the American Dream we all seem to be blindly working towards, whether we want to or not.”

    That was a great thought/point that hit me.

  3. This post is extremely convicting for me… Thank you for sharing this. I know I need to shift from this American Dream concept to one of living out the gospel to impact people for the Kingdom. Thank you for this today!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement! It’s something that’s been on my heart a lot lately, and I’m realizing how pervasive this mentality is and how dangerous it can be. We’re stronger together to fight against it!

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