The Antidote to the American Dream

I was balancing my seven-year-old’s bag of popcorn on my lap when my phone lit up underneath it. We were on a special mommy/daughter movie date while my teenager was at play rehearsal, so I glanced to make sure it wasn’t something important from her or my husband. It was a text from Joy Wyse, a friend and fellow writer, and one of the first lines caught my attention.

“I have decided that Biblical praise is very unAmerican.”

UnAmerican.

I had just told my husband a few hours earlier that I’ve been having a hard time American-ing. We’ve been back in the States for over a year and a half, but I still struggle with the pace, the expectations, the driving children all over the known universe, the constant motion. I’m tired of being tired every evening. And every morning. And in the middle of the day.

What is it about life in the U.S. that makes us run like hamsters on a wheel? What is it that gets into our minds like a toxin, convincing us that our days are about doing and doing again and doing some more?

There are some really amazing things about this country (hello, dryers and hot showers!), but there are parts of American culture that sing a siren song, dulling our senses to reality and pulling us into the rocks.

Somehow we’ve come to believe that if there’s an opportunity for us or our kids, we need to take it. We live like if we work hard enough, if our schedules are full enough, we’ll find meaning. That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? That we make our own success, and success is the key to happiness?

But if we step off the hamster wheel long enough to think about it, a different reality starts to emerge. Our family has friends from a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, from people with almost nothing to their names to people who have more material wealth than they will ever use. Some of our poorest friends are joy-filled, content, and generous with what they have. And some are miserable, just trying to make it from one day to the next. Some of our wealthiest friends have deep, meaningful relationships and live unafraid of what tomorrow could bring. And some of them are profoundly lonely, tangled in a mess of depression and anxiety and unsure of who their real friends are.

We know a lot of people who do their jobs well and work themselves into exhaustion, but they still struggle to make ends meet. And we know people who have simply had everything line up perfectly, and the money just rolls in. The American Dream is a fickle mistress.

My friend Joy recently received the news that her father’s cancer is now in his bones. Not at all what she expected to be walking through during this season of raising teens and doing women’s ministry. She’s doing everything right – praying, serving, giving to missions, loving her husband and kids – all of the keys to spiritual “success”. But her family’s path has still taken a sudden turn into the valley of the shadow. The words she texted me come out of that place of grim reality:

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord… I have decided that Biblical praise is very un-American. It does not follow just the good, its radical personality breaking every rule of the American Dream. Praise calls me when I am down and BROKEN, swimming against the stream. It asks me to submit my selfish desires, and let it all be purified in the basking praise of a God SO much bigger than my life or dreams. It heals me, like a secret weapon, stealthily recharging my spirit for the next big thing. It is born of a God who cannot be defined or contained, each layer of praise tasting richer to the palate of man. These are part of the riches of living in Christ. America, eat your heart out.”

The only reason Joy could write those words is that she’s able to see past what she wants to God’s goodness.

Worship says that God is good IN the cancer journey, not in spite of it.

God is good IN the parenting struggles, not in spite of them.

He is good IN the wondering how ends will meet, IN the loss, IN the aching, IN the waiting. Not in spite of these things, but through them, and even because of them.

God isn’t interested in the American Dream. He’s not in the business of writing success stories. His goal is our freedom from every fragile thing that dulls our ability to experience Him and know Him. He wants to cure us of our addiction to status and security and the pace that makes us forget that we aren’t in control.

Biblical praise isn’t always pretty. It often looks a lot less like well-mixed sound and the appropriate timing of raised hands, and a lot more like gut sobs and letting go.

Joy’s right. Real praise doesn’t fit within American cultural norms. It requires stepping out of the scheduled swirl and being still. It means vulnerability instead of self-sufficiency, and letting life unfold instead of trying to direct every detail. It looks like trusting God’s goodness even when things don’t feel so good.

After the movie was over, after play practice, after grabbing supper on our weary way home, my family drove in silence. My mind was already spinning on the next day’s full schedule, trying to figure out how to fit it all in without anybody having a meltdown, when a little voice from the back seat knocked me off my hamster wheel.

“Can we listen to music?”

My husband turned on the radio, and Aaron Schust’s “Ever Be” filled the car. First the youngest began to sing along, then the teenager, and then my husband and I joined in. The four of us, this little family that has been through so much over the past few years, sang quietly into the dark.

“Faithful you have been

And faithful you will be

You pledge yourself to me

And that’s why I sing

Your praise will ever be on my lips”

Sweet truth and deep breaths in the desperately needed stillness.

America, eat your heart out.

 

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” ~Job 1:21 (NIV)

“He says, ‘Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” ~Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

1 Comment

  1. Jady
    Mar 18, 2018

    Thank you for posting this. What a sweet reminder.

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