God’s will and the death of our dreams

The final post from my original Grief Lectionary writings, based on 1 Samuel 17.

What happens when what we want turns out to not be what God wants? What does it feel like when our dreams of grandeur and prestige turn out to be unlike any of God’s dreams, either for us or for Themselves?

The David story is one case study after another in just that. He is chosen as a boy for his heart, and every king thereafter is measured against him. While he united the Kingdom of Israel and is a warrior of great renown, his misdeeds are equally well known. Most egregiously, his desire leads him to rape a married woman, then kill her husband to cover it up. And here, his dream of being the builder of a house for God is so alluring it leads even the prophet Nathan astray.

“Did I ever ask you to build me a house?” God asks, in a tone that may as well have said, “Ew, David.” God’s is not a real question, but a way for Them to launch into a detailed explanation of what David should be focusing on going forward. HINT: it’s not about you, David. God’s got something much bigger than you in mind.

Those who follow the call of God with any seriousness will recognize this kind of moment. Discernment of God’s will is tricky business, and the closer one is to the seat of power, the tricker it gets. Our pride, our security, our comfort get in the way of God’s will for us, or, more dangerously, for those we lead. Like David, we want to build something with our own hands that will last, that will maybe even be talked about by future generations.

This amounts to building idols, however, for whenever what we build is about us and for us, we are tempted to trust our own building instead of our God.

The course corrections we receive from God are part of the deal of discipleship. However, just because we are getting what we signed up for doesn’t mean we should ignore the real grief that comes with having our misguided dreams dashed. It has been my experience that I learn most about discerning God’s will by failing to do just that. And it is okay to grieve a failure, as long as you don’t get stuck there.

So go ahead and be sad that what you want isn’t the same as what God wants for you. Rage against God’s revealing Their will in such a slow and piecemeal way. Wallow in the depression that follows a dream-dashing. Try to bargain with God so that you both can get some of what you want.

But don’t forget the final stage of grief, in which you make meaning out of your loss. This is the part God is best at, after all, making meaning where there seems to be only chaos and pain. This is the hardest work of faith to make such meaning, but it also has a reliable starting point.

The entry into meaning-making is always what God offers David after nixing his grand house scheme: a reminder of God’s forever love and arching salvation story. You are bound up by God’s promise into something beyond your most beautiful dreams. You are loved beyond measure and without end. God holds you in Their heart, prideful visions and misguided desires and all. And as long as you are there, in the very heart of God, you will live to dream again.

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