Mind the Gap Between Dreams and Reality
They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back. I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of nameless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow, my feet scrabbling for a toe hold between the stones. I was stripped to the waist and the snow mingled with the dirt and the dried blood on my body... My mind went back to that picture in the obstetrics book. A cow standing in the middle of a gleaming floor while a sleek veterinary surgeon in a spotless... overall inserted his arm to a polite distance. He was relaxed and smiling, the farmer and his helpers were smiling, even the cow was smiling. There was no dirt or blood or sweat anywhere. That man in the picture had just finished an excellent lunch and had moved next door to do a bit of calving just for the sheer pleasure of it, as a kind of dessert.
That is how James Herriot’s book ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ opens. It’s hilarious. It’s profound.
A young veterinarian daydreams about his daily labor. He dreams about it during his schooling. He romanticizes it as he prepares for this calling. He makes an idol of what kind of vocation it will be and idolizes his aptitude for that work. And then comes the real deal.
The distance—the gap—between the life of our dreams and the real deal is humorous. At least on paper. In a book. But at ground level, it can be utterly unfunny, unnerving, and even crushing. This truth can lead to a warning: Mind the gap.
Mind the gap, you college graduates bound for your first job. Mind the gap, you newly minted church-workers bound for your first parish. You are about to step beyond your dreams and into the real deal. Mind the gap, you newlyweds, you newly employed, and you who are recently retired. Your visions of what-will-be are about to be confronted with life-as-it-is.
To be sure, there is a benefit in such warnings. And yet in the community of those who trust in Jesus as the crucified, risen, abiding, and coming-again Lord and Savior we can see and say much more still.
Led by God’s Word we can grasp why this gap exists, grows, and threatens us. Simply put, we don’t take sin seriously. We don’t take the effects of our sinful rebellion on all of creation (Genesis 3, Romans 8:22ff) seriously. It’s a curse, folks. The creation is frustrated and will be until Jesus’ second-coming.
And we can see that even after acknowledging the curse, we still fall for the delusion that our little area of care for creation won’t be subject to the curse. Our area will flourish. And this second delusion is easily tied to the next: the belief that though others have struggled and failed, we will master our given vocations.
So warnings are in order. But in truth, they are neither the only thing nor the best thing needed by those struggling to mind the vocational gap. For this community of folks trusting in Jesus is more than simply a collection of frailties, follies, and well-placed warnings. We know this because we know that through Jesus, God has graciously intervened in the world and in our lives! For just as we think too lowly of sin and too highly of ourselves, God has given to us Jesus Who fully knew the depth of our sinful rebellion, had reason to think highly of Himself, and yet humbled Himself to be our Savior. While Jesus didn’t create the gap we are now cursed with, he entered the gap for us.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross… so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).
We are shocked when our labors bring us down into dirt and muck and blood, and yet we shouldn’t be shocked – we deserve nothing better. But Jesus, who had every right to live above it all, willingly came down into dirt and muck and lay in blood – his own, that by his blood you might be made clean. And so he has! And so you are.
Standing with those heading into new vocations is a worthwhile endeavor. We encourage them. We teach them. We warn them. But above all, we let them know that the good new of Jesus is for them in all of life and all of life’s callings! The good news that brings us joy is that we have One in our midst Who was not shocked by His calling. He faithfully carried it out, saving us from sin and all its curses.
This leaves us free, dear friends. Free to no longer lie about the nature of the world, or our nature—a lie that leads to false hope and despair. Free to no longer play the part of the savior—a role for which we are entirely ill-suited. And freed from those things through Jesus our Savior, we are free to turn to our neighbors and offer them our helpful service through our God-given vocations.
Mind the Gap. But above all, enjoy your freedom in Christ!