Learning to Dream

For months my daughter has been telling me what she wants for her birthday. She might be walking through the store and see something she wants, and she adds it to “her list.” Or at the bookstore. Or playing at a friend’s house. Or leaving daycare. Or a myriad of other locations. She keeps adding more and more to what she wants. “Her list” probably has 35 things on it … and she’s three! … and her birthday isn’t for more than two more months!

When we were getting ready to read our bedtime books the other night, she once again mentioned something else that she wanted for her birthday. “You can’t have everything on your list; you are going to have to pick what’s most important to you.” She got this thoughtful look on her face for a few moments, which then turned into a look of pain. “I just can’t decide, Daddy,” she said. “I want to have them all!”

Three-year-olds can be incredibly prophetic, can’t they? They have no filters, and they say the things that most of us are thinking or hoping but have learned not to speak out loud.

But I have found this to be true in my own life. Sometimes it is about material things: a larger house, newer car, and more money in the bank. Sometimes it is about opportunities: a new adventure, a chance to backpack the Camino de Santiago, the chance to do something big. Sometimes it is in my ministry: a more prestigious position, more people hearing my sermons, a book deal, the chance to headline a lectureship. Those desires are often born out of envy; not envying a particular person or what they might have but, rather, envying the possibility of what could be. If you were to ask me which desires were most important to me, and if I responded honestly, I would want to have them all.

In the end, envy is about comparison. We compare ourselves to others and what they have attained or achieved. Or we compare ourselves to a hypothetical possibility, what we believe we could have or should have attained or achieved on our own. Regardless of how it begins, it is all about the way in which we view ourselves and our situation. In her book Glittering Vices, Rebecca DeYoung writes, “Envy is at least as much about the envier’s lack of worth that the comparative ranking exposes as it is about any particular good they have or lack. Envy involves a sense of inferiority, which breeds a lack of self-love.” [1]

Envy prevents us from experiencing love: love from ourselves for the things that we are, and the love of God himself. And envy poisons our future, because we cannot see clearly to what we can accomplish with the skills, talents, gifts, and possibilities that we have been given. Rather than dreaming about what we could do, we spend our time lamenting the things that we are unable to do. As American essayist Joseph Epstein states, “Of all the deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” [2]

I think this holds true for a number of churches, as well. We participate in the comparison game. If only we were a little bigger. If only our church was located over there. If only we had a little more money, or volunteers, or visitors, or young families. If only we had a different form of worship, or a more dynamic preacher, or a better building. We might not be comparing ourselves to some other congregation (although we often are), but we are comparing ourselves to an unattainable ideal. It is the belief that God has not given us enough to do his mission well where we are with who we are.

I believe there are two correctives to the sin of envy. First, we need to learn to have joy. Find joy and give thanks in what you have been given. Rejoice in what others are able to accomplish. Rather than wondering, What’s wrong with me?, stop to give thanks for what’s going right with someone else. Joy is about finding the blessing in spite of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is about finding hope, trusting God, and choosing to praise him in every situation, regardless of whether or not we get what we want.

Second, we need to learn to dream. Dream about what could be attained and accomplished. Now, many of you are thinking, Wait a second; isn’t that the same thing as envy? I would argue that it depends on your motivation. Are you truly dreaming about what could be for the glory of God? Are you being prompted by his leading? Are you living into his vision, moving towards God’s preferred future? The difference between envying and dreaming is the heart behind it. One is about attaining for oneself with the hope of feeling more contented by those things; the other is about accomplishing for the glory of God.

But dreaming requires us to know God deeply and intimately. It requires us to be engaged in spiritual practices that allow us to draw closer to the heart of God. It is through the disciplines of prayer, reading, meditation on God’s word, spending time in silence, listening for the Spirit’s prompting, and self-examination [3] that we can differentiate between our selfish motivation and God’s prompting.

Envy is no fun at all, because it drains us of joy. But dreaming … dreaming can be incredibly rewarding, hopeful, and joyful, because we are aligning our lives and our actions with the vision and mission of God. May we learn to be dreamers in our spiritual lives!

[1] Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (Grand Rapids: BrazosPress, 2009), 45.
[2] Joseph Epstein, Envy: New York Public Library Lectures in the Humanities (Oxford University Press, 2003).
[3] Self-examination practices include things like Ignatian Examen, journaling, accountability with another Christian, etc.


Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.

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Author:  Publish Date: February 22, 2018

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
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