Sunday, February 27, 2011

Living the Dream! and why the American Dream is a Lie

“Why Peace Corps?”

It’s the most common question I hear when I tell people about my Peace Corps application. Strangely, I am finding it difficult to articulate an answer. It’s not that I haven’t put any thought into it. I started the application in July of 2010. It is now the end of February 2011 and my medical packet is still under review. I anticipate leaving by early June of this year. The application process has been long and strenuous; not something someone would go through without putting a lot of thought into it. I even wrote an essay on why I want to join Peace Corps as part of the application process.

If you don’t know already, Peace Corps is a program through the US government in which qualified applicants serve overseas for two years to help train people in developing countries in things like health, sustainable agriculture, and business, to give a few examples.

“Well you aren’t going to make any money doing that!” my Grandpa told me.

I understand his concern for my prosperity, but I couldn’t help but reply indignantly, “It’s not about making money.” Then what is it? What draws me to want to sell my possessions and live in another part of the world away from my family to volunteer my time for two years?

After meditating on it for several months it is difficult to put together an answer. It just seems so natural to me. It’s like asking a person why they like chocolate. Why wouldn’t anyone like chocolate? Why would I not want to join Peace Corps?

I spent several years going to college not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to school because that’s what I was supposed to do. It’s step one on the journey to fulfilling the American dream. We go to college to get a good job so that we can make lots of money and buy a nice car, a house, and afford a lifestyle of luxury and comfort. But coming upon graduation from university forced me to evaluate the direction my life was taking.

I was right on track for obtaining the dream. I had the girl (read my last blog post for more on that), the car, and the degree to line me up for getting the well-paying job. We even had plans for buying a house that her parents were going to sell to us at a very low price. Everything was going so smoothly.

But I was empty.

I imagined myself in the future with this girl, this car, this house, the money and the luxuries. And it was all so unfulfilling.

When I was younger I always dreamed of traveling the world and helping other people. I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do, but I knew that this was the kind of life I wanted. In high school, I thought that the military would be the best opportunity for me to have that lifestyle. But I chose the girl, the school, and the American dream instead.

I continually sacrificed my dreams because that’s what society told me to do. The American dream told me to play it safe. I did things the way that things are supposed to be done and I didn’t ask questions.

When I started looking at job postings through the career development center at the university, I saw nothing that excited me. Sure, there were lots of good paying jobs that would challenge me and use my newly acquired skills. But none of them mattered. Not to me, anyway.

See, I’m a big picture kind of guy. I have to know that the work that I am doing is making a difference. The only difference that I saw most of these jobs making is to stoke the fire of consumerism, thus driving more people into the threshes of the American dream.

Then I saw the posting for Peace Corps. It reminded me of my dreams that I had given up on so long ago. The idea of living in another country, learning a new language, and helping improve people’s lives on such a huge level was very exciting to think about. I had already been looking into volunteering somewhere overseas for a couple of weeks, but this seemed so much more impactful. I thought about it, I talked to a close friend about it, I prayed about it, and then I applied. And this application has kicked my butt!

The Holy Spirit has used this experience to teach me a lot. It has forced me to give up the idols in my life. Peace Corps volunteers cannot have any debt. One of the hardest things for me was accepting the idea that if I could not pay off my car loan, I would have to sell my car. And women are out – there is no way I want to attempt a long distance relationship. Over the past few months I have been selling my most prized possessions: video games, computers, electronics. It has transformed the way that I live my daily life. It has been liberating to now spend my time doing things like studying God’s Word, learning Greek, and spending more time with friends and family. I wouldn’t trade my dreams for the American dream ever again.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1Tim. 6:6-7)

Thank you Father for giving me your Spirit to guide me in my life decisions. You give each of us different passions; gifts that should be used to glorify You. Please give this generation the courage to say no to the American dream and to pursue the dreams that you have breathed into us. Let everything that we do bring honor to Your name! To You be the glory and honor alone! Amen.