Emily Shields is wife to her husband, Brandon, and mother to her four children. Her family has lived in Indianapolis, IN since 2012, when they moved there to plant Soma Church. Emily holds a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from Boyce College.
In December 2012 my husband and I traded in our flip-flops for snow boots, loaded three small children and our newborn daughter in a minivan headed to Indianapolis to plant a church. I sobbed my way up I-65; heartbroken for the life I was leaving behind. I was confident that this was what the Lord had for me, but to be honest, I wasn’t happy with our assignment. I loved Jesus and felt called to serve in ministry, but I wasn’t happy about what it was costing me.
The first few months in my new home with our new calling were not shining moments. Things hit rock bottom when, in the course of one of our more spirited discussions, I laid the blame for my personal struggles squarely at the feet of our church plant. My husband poignantly responded, “I’m not going to let you blame this on the church plant—it is not causing, but simply exposing, what is already there.”
Those words fell on me in such a way that I can remember them as clearly as the day he spoke them. Truth, spoken kindly, sank deep into my bitter heart. It was like the Lord handed me a compact mirror just to give me a glimpse at what was really there. What I saw was so sinful and ugly. It was a heart that was angry; bitter at what it had left behind. I was facing the truth that I didn’t really want to pay the cost.
Shattering My Wish-Dream
Clearly, the problem was me . . . not the church plant. I had constructed a dream in my heart of what life should look like. And now, my life didn’t look like my dream. I was failing to embrace the reality of where God had called me to live here and now.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.”
In His kindness, God was waking me from my wish-dream for my life. As I became bitter at what God had called us to do, I realized God was using this transition to shine light on what was lying dormant in my heart all along—the idolatry of my dream.
God was leading me to repent of the idol of “my dream” that I didn’t know I was enslaved to. And better still, He was giving me a new one. His grace came to awaken me from my dream world and to help me embrace the life of joyful obedience He had for me.
Being Met in My Brokenness
For a performer and perfectionist like me, the revelation that I had worshipped personal comfort and hope for my life over my God was a devastating revelation. I felt like I had failed at a colossal level. I had packed my life and family to move across the country to help others rely on Jesus only to discover how much I needed him. Through repentance, my desires for my own will began to change to desires for His will, and my “failure” became a glorious gift to me. Just as He promises in 2 Corinthians 2:9, His grace was sufficient for me in my weakness. He gave me specific grace in direct proportion to my need. He didn’t just grow me through this grace, but He changed me.
In 2 Corinthians 5:15 Paul writes, “And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Jesus is so kind to save us from ourselves through the “failures” he allows in our lives. It gracefully shows us our need for him. He redeems our souls, and hearts, where our imagination and dreams reside as well.
Dreaming a New Dream
Through breaking the dream I had for my life God allowed me to see how much greater His dreams and plans are for me. I have come to understand that God’s work in us is just as important as the work accomplished through us.
Occasionally, I will still feel my heart drift towards my old “wish-dream,” toward the different life I would have chosen if I were calling the shots. In these moments God is faithful to continue entering into my grief and doubt. I continually return to Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”
He has promised us more in the gospel than anything we could ever forfeit for His name. He is worth the cost. And if we can believe Him, little by little, through the eyes of faith, we will begin to dream a different dream.