When I was 23 years old, my parents invited me and a friend to join them on a Caribbean cruise. The trip was in January, which meant that nearly everyone on the ship was a 50+ retiree. Between me and my friend Ashley, we constituted about a third of the passengers under the age of 35.
At the time, Ash had just gotten engaged. The proposal was about 2 weeks prior, but she was not the giddy fiancée you might expect. Most women would have been happily planning their wedding and dreaming of the future, but Ash had a different perspective.
As we walked the decks of the giant ship, scanning the crowds of older people tanning, eating, lounging, repeating, Ash began to despair.
“Is this what marriage is? Is this the end goal of it all?”
I will never forget the afternoon she asked me that question. Although a cruise ship could never represent the entirety of a person’s life, our surroundings were symbolic. Everywhere we looked, we saw men and women in the last chapters of their lives, gouging themselves on food, and luxuriating in utter extravagance, all without a care in the world.
In her young, idealistic eyes, this somehow communicated one dreadful message:
Marriage was the land where wild, radical dreams for Christ go to die.
And this frightened my tender-hearted, Jesus-loving friend.
I reassured her that marriage is what you make of it. Marriage is not a slave to the plush American dream. At least, it doesn’t have to be. If she wanted to, she could forge a different way. She could make her marriage count for Christ.
Every now and then, that story still comes to mind. Today, Ash and I laugh when we remember her freaking out on that cruise. But that story also reminds me to look at my own life and reflect on the path it’s taken.
Like Ashley, my 20’s were marked by idealism and grand hopes about my future. I dreamed of doing something big for Christ. I wanted to be used by Him for something incredible. Whatever it was, my answer was “yes, Lord!”
With God, nothing was impossible.
I believed that.
I breathed that.
But somewhere along the way, my dreams began to shrink. It’s not that I gave up, but life happened. Each new season provided a new distraction. And each new commitment competed with the grandiosity of my dreams.
In my early twenties, my soul was fertile ground for the seeds of God’s vision to take root. My 20-year-old self was young and open, the perfect soil for planting God-sized dreams.
But as the years went by, those seeds stopped growing. The birds of life’s circumstances snatched the seeds away, and the thorns of new priorities choked the seeds out.
My dreams got smaller and smaller as life got busier and more complicated. My gaze began to shift. When I became a mom, it seemed like a triumph just to get through the day.
Now don’t get me wrong–I would never want to be 23 again. At 23 there was a lot I didn’t understand about the world or myself. I wouldn’t erase the wisdom and maturity that the last 10 years have brought me.
But I do miss that part of myself that used to dream large. I know she’s still down there, buried beneath the laundry and the dirty diapers.
That’s why I am so grateful for the timing and vision of the IF Gathering, which I’ll be attending this weekend and you can tune into online. The IF leaders are big dreamers. They talk about God in a language I haven’t heard in quite some time. They remind me of my younger self, when the world was an open book, and life was a trust fall into the arms of a God would could exceed my wildest expectations.
In the last 10 years, God has adjusted my plans a bit, and that’s ok. He’s worked on the parts of my dreams that were more about me than Him. I’ve needed these years of refinement.
But it’s time to start dreaming again. I am praying that God would resurrect that part of myself and bring her back to life. Because I don’t want to merely survive my days. I want to dream dreams that are worthy of the One who dreamed up this beautiful world, and died to see it redeemed.
Things might look different than my 23 year-old self imagined, but I don’t want to lose that part of myself that was intoxicated with God’s glory, and lived to see His name made great.
Nearly 10 years later, that’s exactly what Ashley did. She and her family have done some wild and crazy things for the gospel, and it has been awesome to watch.
There is so much joy in that wild kind of living, and when I get to those final chapters of my life, I hope I have no regrets. I hope my work and priorities valued in the ways that are valuable to God. I hope I dreamed big, for Him.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
Here we go…
oh sharon, so grateful for that memory and how specifically your encouraged me through my fears. God’s timing was so perfect to be with you! Thanks for this reminder, I so understand that buried 23 year old yelling out beneath the dirty laundry but also loved how you focused on the refinement of years walking with the Lord. Also love this quote and how it stirred my soul: “Because I don’t want to merely survive my days. I want to dream dreams that are worthy of the One who dreamed up this beautiful world, and died to see it redeemed.”. so grateful for your friendship and wisdom!
Sharon, I love this. I just turned 23 and have been a little discouraged. I have big God-sized dreams, but with societal pressures all around me have often felt I would have to settle. I’m ready to keep dreaming and let God work through every area of my life. Thanks for the encouraging post!!
Ash, you know I love you with my whole heart!
Emily, DON’T SETTLE, my friend!
Hey Sharon. So many years of seeing our journeys worked out. God has a plan. Trying to pray through some inklings in me, living life as a mom of two young boys, trying to figure out my dreams – are they God’s dreams for me – how do I live a bigger, more uncomfortable life? What will our lives impact? Serving our boys – loving and serving with my husband – doing more ministry together – but also keeping a writing and photography life – which he journeys with me and is enthusiastic about. Anyway. Thanks for sharing as always. Hearing Jen Hatmaker here in LR in two weeks. Looking forward too it!
Thanks for sharing that, Kim! And I hope you enjoy hearing Jen–that woman has an anointing on her!