Column: The Big Difference between Plans and Dreams

By Marek ZabriskieYears ago, a Presbyterian preacher named Craig Barnes wrote a book called “Yearning: Living Between the Way It Is and How It Ought to Be.”In his book Barnes drew a distinction between plans and dreams. Plans, he said, originate with us. They are our way of organizing our lives and creating our future. Dreams, however, are different. They originate in our subconscious.They are a gift that God gives us while we sleep. The Bible is full of stories about how God came to individuals in a dream and offered them a hopeful way forward.But in order for God’s dream to come true we humans must let go of some of our carefully crafted plans so that God’s dream might be born in us. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we must be willing to say to God, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”Barnes said that the distinction between plans and dreams is how God actually came into history. Nine months before that Christmas Day, an angel appeared to a young woman named Mary, who was probably just a teenager. The angel startled her and said, “The Holy Spirit wants to enter your life so that you might give birth to the Son of God.”Mary must have been absolutely shocked. She undoubtedly had plans of her own. She wanted to marry Joseph and start a family, and the angel’s revelation threatened to ruin all of this.Mary knew that if she said “Yes” to God, it would alter her future and no doubt end her relationship with Joseph. Therefore, Mary’s response to the angel’s dream was nothing shy of miraculous, and this is why she has been so greatly venerated throughout centuries.Because in the face of all that it would cost her to say “yes” to God, Mary said, “Let it be to me, your servant, as you would have it.”Joseph also had plans. He expected to take Mary as his wife and to start a family. When Mary told him that she was pregnant, he suspected as any of us might that Mary had been unfaithful to him.God, however, came to Joseph in a dream and said, “Fear not. The Holy Spirit has conceived the child that is in Mary’s womb, and she shall give birth to a son, and his name shall be Jesus.”And so, Joseph, like Mary, relinquished his plans in order that God’s dream might become a reality and provide hope beyond all hopes forever. As God’s dream unfolded all of history was changed.This has meaning for all of us because it suggests that God has dreams for each of our lives that are richer and more joyful than our carefully crafted plans. The epitome of pride is to say, “My plans are greater than anything that God might dream for my life” just as the sin of cynicism is to think “God does not exist” or “God doesn’t care about me.”If we believe that God has no interest in us then surely something has already died within us. But if we believe that God can make dreams come true, then makes all the difference in our lives. God can take something small and do something incredible with it.Recall how the shepherds were out in the field watching their sheep at night when an angel came to them and said, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”God sent this little child into a world. This unexpected gift of the Christ child has been unlocking the hardness of human hearts ever since – hearts that have been shut because of loss, woundedness, or fear. In something as tiny as a little baby God set about to save the world.What this means for us is that there is hope for each one of us. I suspect that there is not a person over the age of five who has not been wounded in some ways by life.Perhaps you have had something that you have treasured taken from you. Perhaps someone or something has altered your life plans, and you have been tempted to become bitter or to despair.But the story of Jesus’ entry into the world as an infant child, which completely disrupted the careful plans of his parents, shows us what God can use the disruptions in our lives and by the means of little things bring about dreams that are greater than our own carefully crafted plans.Craig Barnes was right. There is a significant difference between plans and dreams. Plans are what we create, but dreams are what God uses to restore joy and love in our lives. Hence, each of us has reason to hope, if we recall the first word that the angels spoke, “Be not afraid,” because the God of Christmas can bring unexpected hope into your life.The God who created the universe with its thousands and thousands of galaxies and millions and millions of stars is infinitely bigger than all of our wounds and fears. If God could take something as small as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger and use it to redeem the world, surely there is hope for each of us. God has a dream for you.The ultimate gift from God are the words with your name on it, “Be not afraid.” So, trust God and go forward in your life without fear.The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie is Rector of Christ Church Greenwich and an avid dreamer of dreams.

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