I didn’t realize how much I wanted the American dream until God thwarted my every attempt to have it. Maybe it’s not even so much that I desired it as that I just assumed it would happen for me. From childhood, I was bombarded with what society says my life trajectory should look like and what I should aspire to become.
Like many little girls, I loved Barbies. My sister and I would literally play for hours in the spare bedroom of our house, which was imaginatively nicknamed “The Barbie Room.”
We had around a dozen Barbie dolls between us – blondes, brunettes, and even redheads. Hair color aside, our dolls were pretty homogeneous. The closest we got to ethnic diversity was a Princess Jasmine doll that sometimes made it into the playtime rotation.
I am willing to bet that our Barbies had way more clothing than we had ourselves. And then there was Ken – arguably Barbie’s most perfect accessory. We only had two Ken dolls, but our Barbies were mostly content to be monogamous, with only the occasional soap opera-worthy plot twist.
Our Barbies had their own residences, decorated with the Beverly Hills furniture collection, of course. We had the Barbie pool, the Barbie motorhome, and the Barbie Mustang convertible (which included the epitome of 90’s coolness, a car phone).
Our Barbies tried out dozens of careers, and even back then, we took our careers seriously. During our Barbies’ stint as police officers, we even went so far as to put some dried parsley into tiny plastic wrap baggies so that we would have some “drugs” to find when we searched “the perp’s” car. (I think we watched a little too much America’s Most Wanted back then).
It’s easy to read my description of what my childhood playtime consisted of and chuckle at the imaginings of my youth. But what I find myself asking is have I truly outgrown those dreams as an adult? In a world that puts the American dream on a pedestal, do we still define success as having the dream house, the cool career, the hunky significant other, an enormous and stylish wardrobe, and all of the fun grown-up toys?
In our consumer-driven, status-obsessed society, God calls us to have different priorities. That may or may not involve marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7), but it definitely does not involve pursuing wealth and all of its trappings. In Luke 12:15, Jesus said to His followers, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” In a Kardashian culture of contouring, PhotoShop, and scantily clad Instagram selfies, Peter tells women that your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:3-4).
I find myself far from the white picket fence. I am 30 years old and have been single for 8 years. I don’t even own a car anymore. I recently moved out of a high rise building in a very nice part of Chicago into a mixed-income neighborhood where I live in a 350 square foot studio apartment. Instead of maxing out credit cards to keep up with the Joneses, I am intentionally living beneath my means in order to become a better steward of the abundant resources God has blessed me with. My plan (whether I realized it or not) may have been the American dream, but God’s plan seems to be to keep me from becoming too attached to any place, thing, or person but Him.
I haven’t gone along with God’s plan without a fight. While the battle for my soul has already been won by Christ, I still find myself bickering with Him almost every day. Materialism and the idols of this world are things that we have to contend with continually. The weight of the worldly is ever-present and pervasive, and we must continue to seek not to conform to the patterns of this world, but to be renewed and transformed by the Word of God – day in and day out.
So when I find myself telling God how that super cute outfit would help me represent Christian modesty well, or how a really nice car with a Jesus fish on it would help my witness, I will remind myself that the life that worldly things offer is but a shadow compared to the fullness of life offered in Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, followers of Christ are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.