How To Wake Up From the American Dream (You Might Not Even Know You’re Sleeping Through)

You don’t always know you’re asleep—until you wake up.

And then you see the world in a completely new way.

Two years after that first life-changing trip to Kenya, I brought Maureen, Compassion-sponsored-child-turned- fearless-Kenyan-leader who rescues girls from unthinkable situations to America for strategic planning and fundraising.

I will never forget the moment we pulled into the driveway of my nice two-story brick house and I saw my home from her perspective.

I will never forget the first question she asked as the garage door opened and she got a first look at my life in America.

“Oh, do you also sell bikes?” she asked innocently after seeing the five bikes hanging from my garage for my family of five.

Y’all.

Waking up from the American Dream

That one question has haunted me.

Because sometimes we don’t always see how much we have until someone who doesn’t have as much sees into our lives.

Do we sell bicycles? Because there isn’t another reason why we would HAVE SO MANY if not. Because in her country one bike is a luxury. One bike is shared by dozens. Five bikes is a bike store.

But I think we all know this isn’t really about bikes. It’s not even about wealth and the world’s poverty.

It’s about waking up from a dream that is never satisfied. About being grateful for what we have and about sharing some of it with others.

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Hey.

I know it’s not easy to talk about waking up from the American Dream. I know reading this might be uncomfortable. I understand it’s more fun to read new recipes or how to’s on rearranging furniture or encouraging mom words.

I get that. I know clicking here requires something of you. I know buying my book about trading in safe comfortable faith for something more authentic and dangerous will cost you more than the $12 price tag.

I know because waking up has been hard for me. I still struggle.

I like the idea of the . A·mer·i·can dream

1.  the idea that everyone in the United States has the chance to achieve success and prosperity

What could possibly be wrong with wanting success and prosperity? We all deserve it, right? We are entitled to it.

No.

It doesn’t take more than a long look at how 3/4 of the world lives to realize, we are not the norm and the only real difference between the poorest of the poor and the guy driving the $100,000 car is where they were born.

“I think with the way we have unprecedented material blessing, with the way we have a culture built on self, self-esteem, self-confidence. All of these things we begin to twist the gospel into something that it is not. We make it look like us and fit into our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to the gospel. In the process we make following Jesus more American than it is biblical. As a result there seems to be a major disconnect between what it means to follow Christ in the first century and what it means to follow Christ in our definition in the 21st century,” David Platt.

To be honest, for every yes I’ve said, there have been at least a hundred reasons to say no.

It is too risky.

What will people think?

I like living this way.

I deserve nice things.

I’ll give to someone in need as soon as I finish building my dream home.

“Believing in the Jesus of the Bible makes life risky on a lot of levels because it is absolute surrender of every decision we make, every dollar we spend, our lives belong to another. And so that is relinquishing control in a culture that prioritizes control and doing what you need to do in order to advance yourself.  The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ,” David Platt.

So, how do we wake up from the American Dream? I often feel myself being lulled back to sleep by it.

  • We stop comparing ourselves to other people. I often don’t know I want something until I see someone else enjoying it. If I’m going to compare myself to someone who has something I don’t, then I also must compare myself to someone who has less than I have.
  • We commit to doing what God tells us to–when He says it. That prompting to give isn’t from you. It goes against our nature to take care of someone else’s needs before meeting our wants.
  • We become wildly generous. Give your life away. It’s easy to give when we have a lot. But when we give and it costs us something–that is true generosity. I’ll say it again: There is nothing more gratifying than giving someone something they need instead of buying something we want.

A generous person is always ready to spontaneously give to those in need. It’s usually inconvenient and unplanned. It will probably cost us comfort, even pride. It won’t be easy or bring us fame.

This is Christianity.

It’s easier to keep sleeping. Living different than the world will cost us something.

But my life is proof that waking up is an open door to living wide awake. And that’s so much better than a dream.


Comments

    • 1.1

      Sabrina says

      I love this article! Jesus is coming back for His bride not the church. A bride is a laid down lover of Jesus who is willing and who does whatever is ask of who groom… Jesus. A lover so in love it won’t make sense to the world.. Our friends and family around us, how much we love and how much we give. Jesus is looking to see those who are completely His., His bride… Beautiful and willing to walk down that isle of total full loving relationship with Him.

      • 1.1.1

        Kasie says

        According to the bible, the church is the bride. The problem is that going to church doesn’t make you the church. We are the church when we behave like a bride… But yes, the American dream must die. That was a mantra we had in Bible school… I need to revisit that as much as the next person, maybe more…

  1. 3

    says

    I had something similar happen when we pulled in the garage one day. One of my daughter’s friends asked if we were at the library when she saw all the cookbooks on the shelves in the garage. So many times we think we need more, but really we need to get rid of stuff and give more and teach our kids to do the same! Thank you for this reminder!

  2. 4

    says

    So good. I had a conversation about this same theme last night with my husband. Reading #rhinestonejesus has been bringing out many of these conversations with us. Thank you!

  3. 5

    Mrs. Mac says

    Oh, when the Holy Spirit pulls us up short with a comment from a child!
    When our family experienced financial problems, my mum commented that we might not be in such a mess if we weren’t so careless in giving our stuff away. That really cut me to the quick! After about a week, I called her back to explain that God owned everything we have ever held in our hands – and we must hold it loosely. She was right, of course. We had fewer things because we had shared, given away, spent our money on others, and indulged our PARENTS, but Mom wasn’t privvy to the secret work of the Holy Spirit in our lives at that time. From financial crisis came dependence on God and gratitude for His provision – through other believers, tradesmen, visitors, and strangers. Six years later, we are re-building our financial security, but it cannot be the foundation for our lives because we know how quickly it can disappear. And…we discovered dandelion greens from the park make quite a nice salad!

  4. 6

    says

    I’ve been so convicted this week of the way we (and by we, I mean I) give away things. I heard a speaker share that Mother Teresa said if we give away that which costs us nothing, we’ve only taken out the trash. I don’t want to be that type of giver.

    • 7.1

      Bridgette says

      I think I need to re-read Radical every Thanksgiving and the month before my kids’ birthdays!!

  5. 8

    says

    Yes, yes, yes! You have such a great way of just putting it right there. Right there in front of us.

    “We become wildly generous. Give your life away. It’s easy to give when we have a lot. But when we give and it costs us something–that is true generosity. I’ll say it again: There is nothing more gratifying than giving someone something they need instead of buying something we want.” I love it!

    We are doing this now. Selling some stuff (because we have to) but giving, giving and giving! We have started a ‘Revolution of De-materialization’ in our house.(http://www.disquisitivechris.com/2014/04/the-revolution-of-dematerialization.html )

    We are getting rid of (mostly giving) at LEAST 50% of all our material goods. The kids are too! I’m working on it for the next three months and chronicling it.

    Thank you. Keep inspiring us!

  6. 9

    Jill says

    I totally needed to read this. We are going to have a “tight” budget this summer due to having daycare costs for our school aged kids. What an eye opener for me though….. we are so incredibly blessed and have so much. I need to quit worrying about not being able to buy something I want, when others are struggling to buy what they need. I’ll never forget the time we brought home my son’s buddy from school who lives in low income housing. He was incredibly impressed— with our garage door opener. I let him open and close it numerous times just to see the smile on his sweet face. I will keep trying to think of kids like him (and ones facing even worse poverty) when I’m wanting something material.
    Thank you for this post. I adore your blog!!! I’m praying for the courage and trust and faith in God to do some of the things you do!!

  7. 10

    says

    I just read your guest post at the MOB society, and was very blessed. My husband has a similar testimony which he will be sharing at a church in Mexico this weekend. I have had a few moments of doubt about whether people can be trusted with our story, although I know that at least 50% of Christian families can probably relate.
    Blessings to you for your bravery, it was a beautiful confirmation.

  8. 11

    Ashley B. says

    Such a great read and convicting on my heart! Might I ask where you got the David Platt quotes from?? I’ve read one of his books and really enjoyed his perspective. Might have to re-read soon. :)

  9. 12

    says

    I’ve been thinking on this topic too. Finding contentment in the abundance God provides becomes a little easier when I get a glimpse into the lives of those who have nothing.

    Years ago, I got to go to the Philippines on a missions trip with our church. I brought a few pictures. One lady saw a pic of my year old son crawling up a stair from living room to dining room. the background was dark, but she saw enough to comment: “You have a big house.” I couldn’t tell her that was only the first floor. I try to keep that perspective. And live with it in mind. But, like you said, it’s easy to be lulled back to sleep.

    Thanks for this post. Sorry my comment is so long. :)

  10. 13

    Jennifer Ott says

    Yes and yes! We are literally selling everything to move to Zambia (with our 4 kids) to live and serve there. When you find out that you have 12 suitcases…and that’s it…but the people you will be helping have so much less, it’s humbling and convicting. Thank you for your words…

  11. 14

    says

    My life changed when I went on my first mission trip to Uganda. Over the past several years our family has downsized significantly. It feels great! I still occasionally have a pity party about wanting more, but that is temporary. It won’t make me happy… Thanks for a great article!

  12. 15

    says

    Do you sell bikes?

    Thanks for reminding me of how much I have to give.

    Today I was checking out at a store and the cashier needed to wait for her manager to fix something. I saw a Breast Cancer research fund collection, so I took the time to find my bulging change purse, dropping in coins.

    “You’re funny,” the cashier told me.

    Apparently even donating loose change is “funny” or different. We do need to wake up.

  13. 16

    says

    LOVE this article! God has gotten ahold of me and my family in the past year. Ever since we saw how the world lives (even a little before that) with our adoption from Uganda. Opened our eyes. We just built our “dream house” a little over 2 years ago. We have now sold it (close in June!) and moving to Uganda to where God has called us for at least the next 3 years. I can tell you this – the peace that we received from listening to Him has far outweighed our joy from living in our dream house. Yes, I will miss many parts of it but God is with us and can’t wait to see what all He has in store for this one family.

  14. 17

    saradreams says

    I needed to read this today. My husband and I are trying so desperately to buy a home at the moment, only because we have been throwing money away by renting instead of investing our money. We found our “dream home” which turned out to have a horrible foundation, cracks in the roof, and a bunch of other things we couldn’t see before the inspection was done. I went to bed last night feeling completely defeated because we cannot afford a higher priced home and all the homes in that price range are in just as bad shape so we are going to continue to rent. I have spent my whole morning worrying and wallowing in my own self pity, thinking things like “We’ll never have a nice house,” and “Why did it work out for that couple but not us?” but I forget (all the time!) how LUCKY we are to be living in this country, period! We both have jobs, our own cars, a roof over our heads (regardless of whether or not we like it), and food in our fridge, pantry, and cabinets. I feel so selfish for the thoughts I’ve had the last couple days. Thank you for this article. I often need to be reminded that the American dream isn’t the epitome of happiness but God’s dream is.

    • 17.1

      says

      I so appreciate your comment and your transparency! I was having a very similar pity party recently. In fact, my husband and I are having to return a new car before it’s forcefully repossessed because we can’t afford it any longer. We had a little pity party, but it’s over now. A painful lesson learned that we’ll continue to pay for, for awhile, but when it’s all said and done – we’ll be so much better for humbling ourselves, admitting our mistakes and working to fix it.

  15. 18

    Tim says

    Sanctimonious much? Maybe quit taking yourself so seriously and recognize that it’s not your job to teach the rest of us how to be like you. Aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? Use him as the example. Not yourself.

      • 18.1.1

        Tim says

        Bob, you are right. I wrote that from a “bad mood place,” and I apologize for my trolling behavior!

        • 18.1.1.1

          Anne says

          Your first comment was painful to read, and your apology was very humbling because I also have a negative attitude sometimes when the situation does not warrant one. I appreciate your honesty!

        • 18.1.1.2

          jeff says

          Tim,

          I was appalled by your first post and then greatly encouraged by your apology and admission. Sure do appreciate your willingness to retract harsh words.

  16. 20

    Martin says

    While I certainly like the sentiment, this style of thought misses the point: We have a lot because we and our ancestors worked and bled for it, not for any other reason. Nations who lack this wealth lack it for their own reasons, and it’s up to them to fix it. I am descended from Revolutionary War vets, Civil War vets, WWII vets, and the salt of this country going back to colonial days, and I will be enjoying my “excess” with a sure knowledge that it was earned by this long chain of people culminating in the hard working Americans of today. End.

    Nice sentiment, though.

    • 20.1

      Anne says

      How is a man living peacefully in Kenya today, trying to provide food and shelter for his family, any less deserving of these things than you and I are, just because his country’s war is now and ours were centuries ago? Why should we let him suffer if we can help him? I ask this to provoke thought, not in criticism.

    • 22.1

      Anne says

      To many, though, leftovers are delicious because the flavors are more blended. I think the term might be more related to planning meals in advance, rather than scorn that they weren’t made within the past hour.

  17. 23

    Tracy says

    You had me until you plugged your book in a blog post about minimalizing and being content with necessities versus luxuries. Wow.

  18. 24

    says

    Kristen, I have to keep leaning here, desiring His voice and heart above all the messages of this world that work to tear me away. But, He is so much bigger–and the love He gives to us to give away is greater than I will ever know unless I choose Him. I am so grateful for you, warrior sister. Bless you.

  19. 25

    says

    I have linked to your blog from my own. I am new to blogging, but an old hat at “sparkly faith”. Your book “Rhinestone Jesus” has been such a challenge to me. God has put several books, events, and circumstances in my path to orchestrate a major upheaval about what I *think* I believe and what I truly believe. The effects have caused me to look deeper at my relationship with Him and to long for Him more.

    Having been involved in ministry for over 20 years, I found myself burned out and used up. I look at people now and question whether they actually have any genuine needs. I question what is a need and what is a want. We have given and given to people and been used and abused in the past. I’ve developed a hard heart somewhere along the way. We have heard stories about acquaintances who need this or that and I think to myself, “Do they really need it or are they just asking so they can use someone and not have to pay for it themselves?” I don’t want to be miserly, but I also don’t want to encourage people using us. How do you determine who you will help?

    • 25.1

      MommaMuse says

      You sound like I feel, but it only took me a couple months, and I never left the states. This is a real struggle. The best answer I can find is to pray. Having said that, there will always be those who “work the system”. But Jesus never told us to dictate to those who receive, what to do with their gifts. He just told us to give. The responsibility of being a good steward of the gift is between the receiver and Jesus. However, we are to judge the fruits (not the person). Sometimes you have to just cut the cord, walk away, and pray for the person. “When Helping Hurts”, by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert is an excellent book on this topic. It might just give you the new perspective you need.

  20. 26

    susan says

    Oh Thank you God !!! ~ I have waited so long to hear these words from someone. I have lived the last 10 years being acutely aware of the wild imbalance between the prosperous 1st world nations, and the want and need and suffering of the rest of the world ~ and I am fully aware that these wants and needs and sufferings occur in our own societies as well. I have struggled with the dichotomy of wanting that ‘good life’ for myself and my children, and yet feeling uncomfortable about the aspiring because it seems in such stark contrast to the reality of our broken world. I have prevaricated so much and felt so much dis-ease from the internal struggle.

    I am a single parent of 4 children, and have been for the past 12 years. Life has often felt like a struggle, one thing to overcome after the next. But through these years I have been brought to a blessed place of putting myself in the hands of the Lord, learning to praise Him in the storms, and letting my life unfold in ways I never wanted and trying to find peace and understanding in the unfolding. Yet, I still ‘aspire’ to wanting to be ‘just a mother’ and to give my children the best I can afford, and always comparing the best I can give, to what everyone else is able to give to their families. Everytime I try to focus on material abundance and blessings for my children, I suffer the nagging guilt of knowing that whatever I have above my needs, is somehow ‘taking’ from those whose need is more. And when I turn to the mindset of ‘wanting’ more for myself, the more my aspirations to have a home and some sort of financial security slip further away :-)

    I know that what I want, and what the Lord wants to lead me into, are very different things. But I have been led to a place where I know I need to ‘let go and let God’, because … well, there is very little left, except my faith, my beautiful children who overlook all my faults and failings, a job that has value and meaning, and that is a miracle all in its own right and parents willing to take us in now that even the rent of the home we have lived in is well above my capacity to afford. God has brought me to a place where all illusion of control and self reliance has been stripped away :-) and greater than the fear and the insecurity, is the knowledge that God will lead my steps from here on in. I am fully broken and submitted. May He lead me to do more for others, be happy with less, and help me to fulfill his plan for myself and my children, whatever that may be. Thank you for these wonderful words, for the inspiration and most importantly for the TRUTH ! I look forward to reading so much more. God Bless, Susan, Australia

  21. 27

    Chuck says

    I admire your generosity and faith, but feel no guilt for my success, and life of relative luxury. God placed opportunity before me to prosper, and I seized it and prospered. I give, and give, and give… But mostly am disappointed with what the recipients do with it… It doesn’t stop me though, I give for me, and what I feel called to give by God, he has given us self-determination so we can both enjoy our successes and learn from our bad choices.

    • 27.1

      says

      You know, this post wasn’t meant to make people feel guilty. At all. I can say the same thing, Chuck. I live in relative luxury also, especially compared to people in other parts of the world. I think for my family, rather than keeping it all, we’ve have decided to share some of it. It sounds like you have, too.

  22. 28

    says

    One of my favorite Jen Hatmaker’s quotes is “I won’t defile my blessings by pretending I deserve them.”

    I just started your book and am at the point where you and Maureen have nailed down details.

    Thank YOU for being an example. Thank you for these words.

  23. 29

    says

    I can related to everything you write in this post. Since returning home from an Operation Christmas Child distribution trip in Ecuador I have felt God working in my life in crazy amazing ways… I just bought Rhinestone Jesus and look forward to reading more.

    I want to do more for God — be more for those around me – God bless you!

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