What’s a wish-dream? I know, it sounds like some sort of hippy-dippy, new-age malarkey, but it is so not. The term “wish-dream” was coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and has proven to be one of the most challenging ideas to my faith in a very long time.
A few weeks back, the consistently awesome Frank Viola, posted an excerpt of Bonhoeffer’s explanation of a wish-dream (if you have time, I encourage you to read the full excerpt. It is just too good not to). Many of those in my church family read it and we began sharing with one another our own wish-dreams.
So what is a wish-dream already? It’s definitely not what might assume….
Bonhoeffer begins, “Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”
Our wish-dream, is essentially the idea of what we think Christian life should be. It is the clear vision we have in our minds that we bring along with us, into every Christian gathering. Which, at first reading doesn’t sound so bad…or dangerous. But, Bonhoeffer goes on:
“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
And this is where it stings. This is where our pride, our expectations, and our own preconceived notions come into play. This is where we begin to feel our flesh object. We don’t want to let our wish-dream die. It is ours.
We are so often told by the world that our dreams are important. Our dreams are our own. We must follow our dreams. Pursue our dreams. Chase after our dreams…
But, as Bonhoeffer goes on to explain, God does not like the visionary-dreamer because he says, “The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. ”
Instead, we must lay our visions to rest. We must surrender our own picture of community, in order to fully embrace and receive the community that God has for us, whatever that may be.
In doing so, we must learn to not only accept our church community for what it is, but also learn to appreciate it for what it has to offer. We shift from a place of impossible expectations to a place of thankfulness and humility.
As Bonhoeffer explains, “We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: brothers, who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?”
I entered my church community with plenty of expectations and a rather clear and definitive wish-dream. God, however, explained to me that the things I thought were crucial–numbers, size, speed of growth, and multiplication–were anything but. I also thought that being a part of a community guaranteed me certain experiences, like a wiser older woman to disciple me. But again, God had other plans.
I watched as the Lord systematically, yet graciously crushed my wish-dream and now, on the other side, I have such a deeper, more profound, and richer love for the community I am blessed to be a part of. My family. My brothers and sisters, who without which, life would seem far darker and much less sweet.
So, the obvious question: What is your wish-dream? What vision of Christian community do you hold onto, whether right or wrong? What wish-dream has God crushed in your own life? What has been the result?
(Like I said above too, if you have a couple of minutes, hop over and read the full excerpt of the wish-dream explanation. It will add so much to the discussion here too)