I can do it. That is the driver of the American dream. Given enough hard work and effort I can achieve the dream. And at times, that dream looks so sweet. A couple of kids. A couple of cars. A house with a couple of floors. Vacations at Disneyland or exotic beaches.
And for all that, all we have to do is work hard. Used to it was working 40 hours a week. Now it’s 60. We’re always chasing.
All of it based on “I can do it.” My struggle this July 4th is my understanding of the gospel which says I can’t do it. I can’t run fast enough to outpace my sin. I can’t work hard enough to be justified. I can’t buy enough stuff to fill that hole in my soul.
And yet I try. I run and work and buy. And sometimes, through God’s grace, I achieve. The joy of success floods over me but like every wave that has ever crashed on the shore, it fades. It doesn’t last. That’s the dirty secret of the American dream. Not only does it not last, it doesn’t satisfy.
So then why? Men and women have sacrificed their lives so that I might be free. Free to run and work and buy, but I want more. God put me here in this time and place. It has to be for more than just that. Look across the globe at the suffering and sorrow in some countries. There are places where people are ripped from their homes and killed for what they believe. There are places where food is so scarce people go days or weeks without a real meal. But God placed me in a place of physical safety and comfort.
And in some ways I think God placed me in a place more dangerous than all of those. How easy is it here for my soul to wander? How easy is it for me to fool myself into thinking I can do it and I don’t need God? We don’t live in a place of great physical danger, but we do live in a place where we can be sucked in by shiny things that won’t satisfy. We live in a place where we are constantly chasing but told to chase the wrong things. We live in a place where we’re increasingly okay with that. We know these things won’t satisfy, but we continue to chase.
Anyone who knows anything about Spider-Man knows the great line that changed his life: “With great power comes great responsibility.” God did put me here in this time and place. He put me in a place of abundant resources and technology. And it isn’t just to terminate on my temporary joy. My joy is the end goal, but not temporary or perishable.
This 4th of July, I’ll cook something outside, enjoy a cold Coca-Cola (from a glass bottle), watch Jaws, see fireworks and hug my children. I’ll be thankful for all those who have sacrificed so that those things can happen. And I pray I don’t waste those sacrifices on the shiny lure of the American dream.
I can’t do it.