I have a little sister who always lives my dreams. Sometimes it feels like God gave her to 9-year-old me just so we could grow up and she could show me my dream-come-true life.
She started traveling internationally at 15 years old. She lived in Chicago for a while during college. She got a boyfriend at 18, a fiancé and a walk-in closet at 19, and a husband at 20. Now at 22, she’s having the first grandkid for my parents and the first nephew/niece for the rest of us. This past Monday, she texted me that she’s probably going to decorate her nursery with a book theme. Like seriously?! Are NONE of my dreams sacred?
I’m overreacting of course; I really am happy for her. She’s one of the most genuinely, effortlessly compassionate people I’ve ever met, and she is living the story that God wrote for her before either of us was born.
I get into a funk every once in a while, though, because – I might as well say it – it kind of sucks sometimes to not only not see my dreams come true, but also have to see my sister living them. In this instance where she’s having the first “niecephew” in our family, it sometimes feels like she’s snatching my dream out from under me.
She isn’t! She’s super kind. And she made sure to check in with me before she got married and when she was planning a family, to ask if I was okay and if I wanted to hear her talk about marriage and baby stuff. Of course I do! Of course I want to know everything. Of course I want us to be able to talk about anything. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not sad about it some days.
Tuesday was one of those days. I just wished I knew what God was doing. I tried to comfort myself with things like, “I’m living a different dream” and “No, I’m super happy for her; it’s fine” and “God only gives me what’s for my good and His glory.” I texted my mom “At the very least, it’s an opportunity for me to run to God so He can tear down my idols [of control, entitlement, etc.].” But I was thinking at the same time, It’s an opportunity for me to run to God so He can destroy my dreams.
I was having a super hard time figuring out how to be thankful in the midst of hard emotions and crumbling dreams.
I began to really think about two things:
- The Gospel
- The dreams I’d been holding onto
The Gospel is the greatest story in history – and it’s taken all of history to tell it, really. It’s the story of how God created the world including us (humans), how we decided to do bad things (sin) instead of follow God, how sin separated us from Him forever, how God decided that was an unacceptable end and so sacrificed His Son Jesus in order to bridge the gap between us and Him, and how we – by trusting what Jesus has done to save us – can spend eternity (the afterlife) with God in heaven.
In the story of the Gospel, Jesus was sacrificed in a brutal death on a Roman cross. Knowing His death would be horrendous, He died in our place – in my place – simply because He loved His people (John 15:13). The story doesn’t end with His death, though. Not long after He died, He rose from the dead and eventually went back up to heaven to sit on the throne of God forever and ever to intercede on my behalf (Mark 16). That’s not even the best part! The best part is that because Jesus lived a perfect life (in place of my sinful one) and died a brutal death (in place of the one I deserve), God allows Jesus’ righteousness to stand in the place of my sin (II Cor 5:21).
So when I arrive at the pearly gates, God will not see all the idols (things I think are more important than Jesus) and selfishness and unkindness and unthankfulness in my heart; He’ll see the perfectness of Jesus and accept me as His child, every bit as much as He accepts Jesus as His (Gal 3:26).
Okay, so that’s nice and all, but what does it have to do with my hopes and dreams and sister?
As I thought about my sister and the death of my dreams, I realized how much “being the first one of the siblings to have a kid” was an idol for me. For decades, I’ve just assumed that it was my God-given right as firstborn. For years, I’ve lived in a mild state of fear that one of my married sisters might beat me to the baby game. I was holding onto the dream of being the older, wiser mom whom my sisters came to with questions; of being able to decide what my parents’ grandparent names will be; of being “Mom” before being “Aunt Charity.”
The truth is, God promised me none of that in the Bible. Even if the desires for a man and kids are good ones, the other stuff I was holding onto was getting in the way of enjoying the story God is writing for me – and for my sister.
I couldn’t see how God loved me by making me an auntie; all I could see was the idol of motherhood crumbling. I couldn’t see how God loved me by giving me a sister who enjoys sharing the details of her life; all I could see was the idol of marrying young being smashed to bits. I couldn’t see how God loved me by giving me my dream of a career and roommates in a big city; all I could see was my idol of control being shattered.
It’s not happy-making in the moments that Jesus comes in to forcefully pry the idols out of my hands and drop them on the cold, hard ground. But neither was it happy-making the day that the guards came and forcefully nailed Jesus’ hands to a cold, hard cross because of my idols (John 29:25-27).
Thankfulness is elusive when I compare myself to my sister, but it’s the only possible response when I compare myself to Jesus.
God’s glory seems absent when I get stuck feeling sorry for myself, but it is actually fully present because Jesus never felt sorry for Himself.
My sisters get to experience life in ways I may never get to, but I get to know Jesus in ways they never will.
When I’m wrapped up in my emotions and the “why”s of my story and the details of my sister’s life, I’m trapped by idols and “what if”s and bitterness. The Gospel, though, provides a freedom I find nowhere else. Because of the Gospel,
- I can hand my dreams over to Jesus, freeing me to rejoice in the good work He’s doing in my sister’s life.
- I can trust Him to smash the dreams that He never gave me and hand me back the ones He wants me to have.
- I can let myself dream without becoming bitter when they don’t come true.
Yes, one day I will run to Him at the pearly gates, in full confidence that Jesus’ sinless life was substituted for my sinful one. But the beauty of the story is that I can run to God NOW because of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
Since way before I was born, and way before God even put humans on this earth, God knew the dreams I would need. He knew the sister I would need in order to run to Him. And I’m a-running – right over the dust of my idols which make me sad, and into the arms of Jesus Who makes me joyful regardless of my dreams and whether or not they come true.