A few years ago I got to hear Phil Vischer share his story at the RightNow Media conference in Dallas, TX. Vischer is the founder of Big Idea Productions who created the popular VeggieTales cartoon series. Under his leadership, Big Idea grew into a multi-million dollar company.
Although it was impressive, Vischer's hard work, talent, and his rise to fame and fortune wasn't the part of his story that had the greatest impact on me. He actually didn't talk much about this. He spent the majority of his time talking about the hard, but necessary, lesson he learned after being sued by a former distributor at the height of Big Idea's success, and as a result of the lawsuit, losing everything and being forced to file bankruptcy.¹
- “Suddenly I found myself facing a God I had never heard about in Sunday school. A God that apparently wanted me to let go of my dream.”
- "After his bankruptcy, my mother handed me a cassette of a preacher who asked the question, “What does it mean when God gives you a dream and the dream comes to life and God shows up and without warning the dream dies?"
- "If God gives a person a dream, breathes life into it, and then it dies then God might want to know what is more important to the person – the dream or God."
- "Why would God want us to let go of our dreams? Because anything that you are unwilling to let go of is an idol and you are in sin. I realized that my good works had become an idol that defined me. Rather than finding my identity in my relationship with God, I was finding it in my intense drive to do good works."
The perspective Vischer was able to find and keep when hitting his apparent rock bottom was the part of his story that resonated with me the most. I wasn't sure why because I had never really experienced something like that. It wouldn't be long until I started to see the reason it caught so much of my attention, because my dream would soon die and I would have to find this kind of perspective.
My dream was to be successful, and if I was successful, that meant I would be respected, recognized, and admired. Being a doctor seemed like a way to achieve that and it seemed to be working but this led me down a dangerous path. I got a small taste of success and wanted more and in the process started to neglect God, the one who deserved all my attention. The gift had become bigger than the giver. Success had become my idol.
I am certain there were many times in the past God tried to make me aware of this. I wasn't paying close enough attention because I didn't change. But God was patient and He would not stop pursuing me. When earlier and simpler warnings failed to awaken me, God allowed something to happen that ultimately made me aware of my idolatry and helped me put success in its proper place.
I suffered a traumatic brain injury and suddenly had a "new normal" that presented me with many challenges. There were many days I didn't want to deal with it and just wish I could get back to how things were before. Due to my injury, I was forced to unexpectedly and regrettably stop practicing medicine, which had been the key to my success. I was struggling to accept that this was really happening and didn't know what I was going to do for the rest of my life. This is when I started asking God a lot of questions and didn't really understand His plan. I was beginning to feel as if TBI was some sort of curse.
It was during this time of darkness that I kept going back to and being reminded of what Phil Vischer had said at the conference about dreams and idols. God works in ways that are beyond our ability to fully understand and I can't say with certainty that I know what God has done or is doing. But Vischer's words allowed me to get an alternative perspective on what God was orchestrating in my life. I started to believe my TBI wasn't a curse, maybe it was, in fact, God's way of killing the idol of success in my life. So then, God could take His proper place and serving Him could become the focus of my life. When I started seeing it this way, I began seeing my TBI as a blessing.