Awakening From The American Dream

May 14, 2009

I hate to admit this, but there’s a side of me that sometimes enjoys the idea of oncoming disaster.

Maybe I’m too detached and numbed by the virtual world of movies and television, where a 10.5 earthquake sends California into the ocean or an ice age suddenly covers all of North America.

It’s not that I welcome the human suffering that disasters bring. The death, distress and turmoil that have resulted in such events as 9/11, Katrina, or most recently, Gustav, are in no way to be celebrated or made light of.

So, perhaps my fascination with disaster is just immature fancy and should be subdued. But, one thing that excites me about any larger than normal upheaval is it feels revolutionary—it often serves as a type of wakeup call for humanity to get its priorities back in order.

That’s one of my thoughts as I observe the onset of potential disaster in our country’s economy. I see people writhing in pain and gnashing their teeth at the gas pump and on the floor of the U.S. Stock Exchange. Some of their anxiety is genuine, in my view. Some of it isn’t.

Where is our fear really based? What if we took our fears to their extremes? What if we did lose our whole 401k? What if we lost our house to foreclosure? What if all the gas stations closed and we couldn’t drive to work anymore? What if we had to file for bankruptcy? What if all the banks failed?

Would there be suffering? Sure. And, some of that suffering would in no way be welcome—no money for healthcare, babies without necessary food, sickness, perhaps death. But, I wonder if for most people, the fear and the suffering wouldn’t necessarily be as bad as we want to make it out to be.

I think the nightmare many fear is sourced in some corrupt mutation of what was once a good dream. The American Dream. The American Dream grew out of the foundation that anyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All Americans should be afforded the opportunity to make a life for themselves, to pursue that which brings contentment and, dare I say, meaning and purpose.

But, what is it that truly brings life and happiness? Is it the freedom to use our credit card for daily expenses and make only the minimum payment every month? Is it the liberty to pursue the latest fashions, the latest IPhone, the largest high definition TV? Is it the opportunity to build equity in a home only so we can buy an even bigger home? Is it the pursuit of so much material good that both husband and wife must work full-time and rarely see each other or their kids?

Certainly, I could go on and on. And, I don’t claim to be above the attractions of materialism. I do consider myself, however, to be a “recovering addict”. Over the last 4 years or so, I have moved from holding a nice corporate job that I felt was devoid of meaning, to pursuing a life in service to others. My wife and I now work part-time, took the equity in our previous home and bought a more modest house out in the country at half the price, and are seeking to prioritize our lives as best we can.

Our first year in this experiment was one of the happiest in our marriage. We were already seeing a payoff from running away from the flow of a material-obsessed culture. For instance, more than just living from paycheck to paycheck, we often had no money for the mortgage with just a few days before it was due. But, every month, without fail, the money somehow came in. Every month. Right on time. We were truly happy in one sense because money wasn’t something to argue about. We didn’t have any!

Again, I don’t claim everyone would have this experience, but I do wonder what we really need to be happy and to survive. If, as I said above, we live in constant fear of losing everything, is it possible that our definition of “everything” is a little out of whack? As is often said, people who lose their house in a fire instinctively cling to what’s really important—each other. The absence of money or material possessions can wake us up to what’s important.

The American Dream, in its purest ideal, is worth pursuing. But, left to its own devices, without any deeper foundation, I think the American Dream can lead to the American nightmare such as we’re getting a taste of today.

In my view, there’s a deeper dream, a truer happiness that’s worth pursuing. A “Kingdom” dream, if you will. As fan of Jesus and what he did when he walked our soil so long ago, I see a man who lived a dream. He was King who had a Kingdom dream. But, it wasn’t a dream of riches, or comfort, of retirement, etc..

He was, in the most practical sense, a homeless man. He had no large home, nor did he have a large mortgage. He traveled from place to place in service to others. He had little to no money. What he did have, he shared with his community and those he traveled with.

He had no technology, no internet, no television, no MP3 player to distract him from the real world. He had no car, so he didn’t need to fill his gas tank. He walked everywhere. His pace was slower. He could truly notice and embrace the world around him. Sure, he paid his taxes to Caesar, but I don’t think he was overly-obsessed with how his taxes were spent. He made his most important investment in the Kingdom of God.

Today, we debate whether a bunch of rich, greedy corporate hounds should be bailed-out by our government (and our tax dollars) with the hope that our economy won’t go under. I go back and forth on this issue and will let better minds debate it among themselves.

But, what gives me the most peace is that this King living his Kingdom dream offered me—a rich, greedy, materialism-obsessed human—a bail-out that goes much deeper than any temporary band-aid for our economy. He lost everything, so I could have Him, who truly is everything.

And, he didn’t just give me the opportunity to pursue some future happiness in Heaven. He offered me life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in a Kingdom that is present today, “at hand” in the here and now. He offered a Kingdom that exists in the eyes of the poor in spirit, in the humble of heart, in the peacemaker, in the ones who love God and others more than themselves.

That’s a dream worth “waking up” to. That is, as long as we choose to wake up from the nightmare. As scary as the nightmare can be, upon waking, it soon seems brief, fleeting, and is soon forgotten.


About John Michalak


An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

Need More Inspiration?

Click HERE to get more inspirational articles sent directly to you as well as updates from John on his writing and other items of interest.

  • Curt
    May 14, 2009 at 4:01 am

    That’s an awesome article, John. Hear, hear.

  • Jill
    May 14, 2009 at 11:49 am

    Thanks for that, John. I’m in complete agreement. Wonderful.

  • John Michalak
    May 14, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks, Curt. 🙂

  • Mark Rogers
    December 2, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this blog.

    I was let go from my job today, but this strange feeling of peace and calm washed over me when it happened. I would love to do what you and your wife have done. Unfortunately, in this market it would be financial suicide. Getting our priorities in the right order is the real goal.

  • Linda Baker
    December 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm


    I agree with your version of “the dream”. I too, have over the last 10 years, changed my consumer habits and consciousness. I’ve never been materialistic or had my things own me. It’s way better to be rich in experiences and to strive to achieve success through service to others.

    Simply downshifting is an uplifting way to live.


  • John Michalak
    December 2, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Glad you enjoyed it. I should have been clearer that I don’t expect people to follow the exact PATH my wife and I have followed, but only take another look at their priorities in view of Kingdom living. We need to focus on the model given by the same King, but the application I’m sure may look different for many.

  • Tracy
    August 16, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    It’s nice to know that I am not crazy and there are people out there like me who have quit trying to keep up with the Jones’s. Life is so much more enjoyable and worth living without the rat race. I still have a ways to go and some “things” to shed but I am on my way! What a great feeling just coming to terms with all this stuff!

  • John Michalak
    August 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Hi, Tracy. Thanks for your comments. I’m so glad you’re on this path. It’s deeply liberating. Don’t give up! 🙂

  • Noretta
    March 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Good reading. Look forward to reading more.

Leave a Reply