Dreaming the Right Dreams...for ourselves and our children

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Katherine Ruch

Years ago when I was teaching at an international school in Brazil I heard yelling in the apartment on the first floor.  I ran down to find one of the other teachers standing in the hallway wrapped in a towel yelling that her shower-head was on fire.  I ran in to turn off the water (or electricity)--I was use to this sort of occurrence having been raised in this world where water and electricity seemed to be combined in useful ways. (Other more developed countries have not yet advanced to such discoveries).

When I returned to comfort this shaking woman who had only just arrived from the United States, I was surprised to find her laughing.  "Who thought of heating water with electricity in a shower-head?" she laughed.  I told her to be careful, as it is easy to get shocked while taking a shower,  but she was among the few who have had the unfortunate experience of the water turning to fire, and for that I could only apologize on behalf of Brazil.  Her response has stayed with me.  She said, "I came here expecting to live in a hut.  I'm so excited we have hot water and showers, that this is nothing!"

Our responses are shaped by our expectations.  I have reflected often on what I expect of this life, as those expectations will shape my responses to difficulties and trials.

I was teaching Death of a Salesman to some highschoolers recently and was once again struck by Biff's comment about his father, "He had all the wrong dreams." His dreams for his children had been for worldly success and recognition.

What are the right dreams?

I realize that much of my expectation and dream for this life is shaped by the American drive for comfort, self sufficiency, and stardom.  Therefore, when I am in discomfort or feeling great pressure or limited resources, I am disappointed with life.  I have an impression that I am being cheated by a nebulous force that keeps me from all I could be if only I had the resources I need to live with a sense of control and what would command attention from others.

That is because we were made to live our lives for and with others, not creating an image of our own aggrandisement and self reliance.  We came into this world infants and are meant to grow into maturity.  Is maturity self-sufficiency and stardom?

When we had our first child, my husband and I prayed for a guide by which to shape our nurturing and discipling of our children.  What was our goal?  Was it for them to be intelligent and get into good schools so that they could use their gifts and have many opportunities?  Was it to teach them to be independent?  Was it for them to be popular Christian kids who would attract others to the Lord through their charisma and charm?  Was it to raise them to be confident and believe they could do anything they wanted to do?

As we prayed, we were led to the two greatest commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength," and "Love your neighbor as yourself."  We were to raise children that could love...God and others.  And that unfolded for us a journey of which I will say more in another post.

To have the expectation of life that I will learn to love God and others, means that circumstances are always an opportunity to grow in love.  Nothing can sabotage my life goal.  In fact, God is glad to teach me to love.  He sent his Son to show me how.  It is a battle of submission in the garden.

It is the cross in which my arms are held open in vulnerability sometimes against my will. 

This means I should not shun trials for myself or my children.  My dream must be that everything be used for shaping a person that can live for God and others.

Is it possible that I could dream of loving like Jesus?  And if that is my dream, cannot I not expect my love to be perfected in pressure and adversity as his was (after all, it says, "he learned obedience through what he suffered" Heb. 5:8--Jesus, of all people)?  So if I expect a hut, the shower of fire in an enclosed space is just part of the journey to which I committed. 

Throughout my day, when I again encounter discomforts and pressures, I can turn to the Lord and submit,  "Oh, Lord, just make me more open, more loving, more surrendered.  May all these trials take me somewhere I could never go if I had not submitted to them.  Make me a person who loves you more.  Make me a person who loves those around me with a perfected love--a love that is not self-seeking."  I have had to lead my children in these very prayers when they are grieved or profoundly disappointed.

When my brother was dying an early death with so much ministry and academic opportunity spread before him, as well as a lovely wife with which to share his life, and two young children to raise, he struggled with profound sorrow for all he was not going to be able to do.  One night Jesus ministered to him, and my brother said to me, "I realize now what this life is all about.  It is not about what I accomplish, but it is about learning to love.  And if I have done that, I have lived a full and successful life."

How often I am tempted to have the goal of making my child a star.  So much is lost when that is the dream.  We give up family time, spend too much money, waste too much time chasing a goal that does not necessarily make that child a mature person, full of love and purpose.  How many parents I know would rather have their child get into an Ivy League school even if it batters their faith and makes them intellectual sophisticates than see them go to a good and challenging school where their lives are shaped with a selfless mission.  I have read shocking articles of how motivated parents have become to getting their children into the BEST university, that they will shape all of their activities and relationships with that one purpose in mind.  I would rather have an average child who knows how to love and be a good spouse, mother or father, how to work very hard, how to fill leisure time with meaningful and enriching activity, and has learned how to live fully in God and the Church.  For some, this would be accomplished by going to the best school or being the star in something, but certainly not for most.

May we resist the siren call to waste our energies dreaming of and trying to craft the perfect life.  Take time to pray and ask what your dreams for your children honestly are, and then be intentional about shaping a life as a family that follows the proper dreams.  And may our children say of us, "They had all the right dreams."