During my summers in college, I worked as a camp counselor. I spent three months each year ministering to junior high students and added all sorts of skills to my resume: I taught sailing, basketball, drama, and high ropes. I fought off bees, ate my share of corn dogs, and made countless friendship bracelets. I loved almost every second. But some of my favorite moments were spent in the home of my camp director. Each week his wife would host some of the women on the staff for a small group. We sat in the air-conditioned living room, eating popcorn and maturing through the study of God’s Word.
I remember one conversation in particular. We were discussing the dreams we had for our lives when she issued us a challenge. She passed out pieces of paper and pens and told us we each had five minutes to make a list of our dreams and goals. As a perpetual list-maker I was thrilled.
I didn’t even have to think twice before I started recording my bucket list, the dreams I had for my life:
- Have a family
- Write a book
- Learn to play the drums
- Travel to Japan
- Grow an herb garden
- Attend an opera
I wrote non-stop for a few minutes before I noticed that most of the other young women were gazing around the room with perplexed looks and furrowed brows. The lists weren’t coming to them quite as easily.
I felt a little smug. Not only was my list filling up the entire page, I would most certainly have the most items at the end of the activity. The only thing I like more than making lists is winning.
Our leader directed us to stop as we hit the five minute mark. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was sure she was going to ask us all to call out the number of items on our list. But she didn’t. Instead she asked us to flip over our papers to the blank side.
She asked, “How does your list look? Do you have lots of items? Good for you! Dreams are amazing. They help us to live with hope and to set goals. But sometimes we can turn our dreams into demands. We hold up our lists to God and say, ‘I’ll only be happy IF you make these happen. Go ahead and sign off on my list, God. That would be great. Thanks.’”
We were then challenged to sign our names on the blank side. The point was to declare that we desired God’s plan for our life, even if it didn’t include everything from the front side of the page. Scary thought, right? I was surprised at my own hesitancy in the moment. When I went back to my cabin that night I couldn’t fall asleep. The evening’s events played over and over in my mind. I couldn’t decide how I felt about the activity.
On the one hand I know that having dreams and goals is a very good thing. Dreams keep me active and achieving. But I also understood what our leader was trying to teach us. I wanted to trust God with the desires of my heart, but something kept me from signing the blank side of the paper with eager anticipation. In the early hours of the morning I pulled out my Bible and paged through the Gospels. Eventually my searching led me to the highlighted sections of the Sermon on the Mount and specifically to Matthew chapter 7.
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11, NIV)
We have a Heavenly Father who loves to give good gifts. Those gifts may not come packaged in my timing or exactly the way I want them, but gifts from God are always good.
As I wrote in my recent book, Forget the Corsage:
“Trusting God with the desires of your heart is a huge step in learning to love. Believe that he cares far more for your heart than you do. If he really is the expert, he will give you exactly what you need in the perfect timing. God isn’t waiting to pull back the curtain and exclaim, ‘Ha! Sucker! Now you’ll be single forever! Now you’ll never get what you want!’
Trust that his good is good. Even if your life does not look like anything you had planned for it, remember that our Father loves to give you the desires of your heart. Not every desire will come to fruition in your timing or the way you might have expected. But the promise of God assures us that he is enough to satisfy every single longing.”
The purpose of the dream list exercise wasn’t to stifle those dreams. God loves to hear our heart’s desires, to watch us make goals and achieve them. But he also desires to be a part of them. So, I try daily to turn my lists over, sign the blank side and ask for his dreams for my life. As much as I want my idea of a perfect list, ultimately I must trust in the one who is the expert on what I need, the one who gives good things and will assure I live the life for which I was created.
As I look back on my life I can see God’s master plan at work.
On my own I would not have chosen the heartaches or even the timeline, but I am so, so thankful for the journey. My new book, Forget the Corsage, tells the story of an insecure young woman (me!) and my journey to discover a future that is secure in him. I could not have dreamed up this amazing adventure even if I tried. His good is so, so good.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9, NIV