One of the joys of being one-twelfth of The 12 is the chance to interact with what the other eleven are thinking and writing about. Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell posted a piece last week about that haunting line at the end of John’s gospel where Jesus talks to Peter about “Being taken where you do not want to go.”
Steve wrote: “There is no promise that by following Jesus your dreams will be fulfilled. Your dreams will be changed.” Amen to that. Here’s a little of my own story of the death of a dream.
In the fall of 2009, I was sitting on the couch in my house in the Netherlands listening to an old song by Dan Fogelberg which was titled, ironically enough, Nether Lands. Here’s a You Tube link. Yes, I’ll admit today that the song might be a little overproduced on the whole orchestral effect side of things, but that day in 2009 when I heard him sing, “Where do you go when you get to the end of your dream?” tears filled my eyes. Suddenly there were words to go with all the inner turmoil and angst I’d been feeling for months. I was in the Netherlands, doing what I thought was going to be my dream job, living where I thought I was going to live the rest of my life, and I was profoundly unhappy. Unhappy personally, unhappy professionally, just plain unhappy. I felt like the wrong guy in the wrong job at the wrong time not only in the wrong place but in the wrong country on the wrong continent. Fogelberg’s question was my question. It is the question of mid-life. Where do you go when you get to the end of your dreams?
Off in the nether lands
I heard a sound
Like the beating of heavenly wings . . .
I wasn’t sure at the time if the sound I was hearing off in the Netherlands was the beating of heavenly wings – nothing about my experience felt heavenly at all. It just felt rotten.
And so I left. Left my dream job. Left the country and continent where I thought I would live out my days. Left with my tail between my legs. Opened myself to the well-meaning judgments of others in statements like, “What was that all about?” or “It’s hard to fail publicly, isn’t it?” Had I failed? I didn’t think of it that way. I thought I had learned what I wasn’t supposed to be doing, but others saw my experience as failure. Yikes. Is there anything more taboo in our culture than failure?
I’ve heard successful authors talk about the “how-you-saved-my-life” letters they get from their fans, and I could write a few of those letters myself. (In fact I have written one of those to Frederick Buechner, but that’s another story for another day.) In the months following my job resignation and return to the states, my life was saved this time by reading Falling Upwards by the Franciscan father Richard Rohr. It was Rohr’s insistence that my experience was normal that helped me the most, along with his invitation to see my “failure” as an entry into a deeper experience with God. Rohr borrows the concept of “necessary” or “legitimate suffering” from Carl Jung and says surely this is what Jesus was talking about when he said the only way to save your life is to lose it.
I`ve seen the bottom
And I`ve been on top
But mostly I`ve lived in between
And where do you go
When you get to the end of your dream?
Well asked, Dan. As Rohr says, if we are on any sort of spiritual trajectory at all, some event, person, death, idea or relationship will come along that we simply do not have the ability to deal with. This is the only way God can get us to let go of our egoistic preoccupations and go on a further and larger journey. None of us can engineer it, and it feels horrible to be in the midst of it, but what’s so bad about failure that leads you to deeper and better places?