Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why I Want to Believe Mickey

Last week my family and I spent two days at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. We're not particularly Disney crazy around here. My son knows who some of the characters are, but that's about it. However, when presented with two free days worth of tickets, parking and stroller rentals, how could we turn it down? So, covered in sunblock, backpacks full of water, we ventured into the insane and stagnant heat of Orlando in June.

The first thing we were faced with, besides massive crowds of people and a thrilling monorail ride which, I think, would've fulfilled my son's every dream had we only stayed on that all day, was the huge Disney castle and the Disney characters performing a show that I can only assume was called "Dreams Really Do Come True" based on the sheer number of times that phrase was repeated throughout its duration. Mickey and the gang, along with Peter Pan and a myriad of princesses (who had all the little girls in the crowd practically freaking out with glee) talked and sang about, basically, the American Dream. How we can have anything we want, how we should reach for the stars and dream big and that all our dreams do come true. Now,it seems that Disney has capitalized on this theme to draw millions of people to its parks every year with the promise that our dreams actually will come true while at the amusement park. Bravo, marketing department.

The thing was, as I listened to Cinderella sing about her dreams and watched everyone rag on Donald for being the pessimist in the group, I wanted to believe every word. I wanted to buy into this idea that utter happiness can be achieved by getting exactly what I want. That my dreams are "just the beginning" and if I can "reach down into my heart" I will achieve anything.

So, as we made our way through the park, driving racecars, hugging Mickey, letting Josh ride his first roller coaster, eating ice cream, I began to wonder if some of my dreams were coming true. If I would truly be a happier person for having visited this crazy park, where every worker is eternally cheerful and every street is so clean you could eat off of it. My subconscious started to buy into this. I couldn't have identified a single "dream" to speak of, but I found myself hoping, wondering what new and exciting dream would come true in my life. I don't know how much their marketing guys are getting paid, but it appears to be well worth it.

I want to believe in the American dream. I want to feel like if I just achieve my dreams, whatever they are, if I have the house I want, the perfect number of kids, the good marriage, the stable life, that somehow I will have arrived. And wouldn't it just be easier if that were true? Then I could just work towards something, find it and be done.

There are some preachers out there who preach that if we obey God and follow him well, that we'll have the things we want and our life will be free of trouble. I think Disney is preaching the same thing, although packaged in the world of fairies and princesses. It's not any less harmful. It still teaches us to trust in our own ability to make things happen and to measure our worth by what we can achieve. And it still creates massive disappointment when we realize that no matter what we have, disappointment, hurt, pain, and sickness will still inevitably be a part of our lives. There's no real arrivals in life, only the journey. but Mickey would have me believe that I have a set of dreams that need to empirically come true and that once they do, it will mean happily ever after.

I'm thankful that we left that Disney park. We had two great days of fun, there's no denying it. But I'm thankful that my son will not grow up in the shadow of that Castle. I want him to understand that he can have big dreams, that he can desire to become something when he grows up, but that we are never promised perfection or happiness in this life and that our dreams can't define us. We are given this journey to find out who God is, draw closer to Him and, consequently, know ourselves and love others better, hopefully in a way that is characterized by hope and contentedness, not to live happily ever after.

Now, if there are sprinkles of happiness in the midst of it all, then all the better. But happiness is not the goal, it never has been. Knowing God is the only way that I can learn to experience real joy, not fleeting feelings of happiness, a joy that comes from having my identity firmly rooted in who God says I am, unchanging in the face of circumstances. A joy that will remain even when those Disney moments fade, when dreams don't come true, when trouble finds us. And a joy that will enrich those moments when good gifts do come, because I know the Giver all the more.

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