One of the first poems I remember memorizing as an elementary student is, “A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
The poem struck a chord with me, even in elementary school. Dreams were real and the sky was the limit in my dreams. I didn’t like raisins as a kid and I certainly didn’t want my dreams to dry up like one. However, over the course of the next thirty years, dreams would fade and day-to-day became focused on tasks and responsibilities.
Earlier this week our staff read Genesis 37 together. In the passage, Joseph shared dreams with his brothers about his purpose and calling. These dreams threatened the brothers and caused jealousy and hatred. Through their deception and treachery, Joseph soon found himself thrown into the bottom of an empty cistern and sold into slavery.
What ran through Joseph’s mind at the bottom of that well?
Cisterns hold water. Water brings life.
But what if a cistern is empty and serves to hold us captive instead?
What happens when it appears that our dreams will not come true?
Six months ago I wrote a blog titled, “I Am Not Who I Want To Be”. I still haven’t reached those self-imposed dreams/goals. Observing others celebrate baby dedications, anniversaries, family vacations, and other milestone occasions are simultaneously joyful events and reminders of what I still long for in my own life. I recently found old journals and the dates were almost stunning when I realized how long I have prayed some of my prayers. However, the last six months have brought me face to face with significant growth, as well.
“I did know once, only I've sort of forgotten.” ~ A.A. Milne
I experienced moments of pure exhilaration and moments of tears and sadness over the last several months. Just like Winnie the Pooh, I find myself consistently reminded of what I used to know as I continue to work toward one of the goals noted in the October blog (physical health). The following “essentials” are reinforced every day in the gym and share significant parallels to the pursuit of my dreams and goals (spiritual, personal, and professional):
1. The Internal Matters
The “internal” is the essential foundation for anything we attempt spiritually or physically. Despite the fact that these items (spiritual disciplines, nutrition, etc.) are essential to our success, they are also the most easy to ignore – most often because ease and comfort sway our focus.
2. Most of the Work is Alone
Even if we choose to study or workout with a group, at a gym, with a mentor/coach/trainer, or at home – much of the work is alone. Our focus and our determination is internal. The decision to simply show up is a personal decision.
3. Results are Often Imperceptible
I get frustrated daily because I’m still far from my health and physical goals. Similarly, it is almost impossible to measure the spiritual life. The movement and progress we make is often only seen when we look back on a lifetime of risks and courage, setbacks and victories.
4. Support/Encouragement and Expert Advice/Mentoring is Essential
Regardless of how much I cognitively know that my spiritual and physical health are vital, I need others to encourage and remind me to keep trying and not stop. At the same time, I have much to learn from others. I also need their observations and feedback as “outsiders” – about form and methods, outcomes, challenge, and accountability.
5. The Journey is Part of the Destination
It is easy to keep a “head down” approach and bulldoze our way through life and goals as if we have blinders on. Blinders are used on horses to keep their eyes focused on what is ahead and not distracted by what is behind or to the side.
However, when I consider Joseph and his experiences between the dreams and their fruition, I see a man who is groomed and trained through the valleys, the struggle, and the occasional blessing – maybe without full awareness and maybe with hope – for a grand culmination of the dream.
The spiritual life has a tension between the now and the not yet. Keep the goal in mind, but experience and “live” in today. Exploit every day for growth opportunities. See the path that you have traveled, keep your eyes forward, but look around andsee and experience the fullness of God and life today. Live, laugh, mourn, grieve … expect and hope. When we look back we can know we experienced every step – every victory – every setback – and persevered toward the ultimate goal.
6. Perseverance is Required
This is simple … don’t stop. Days of rest and recovery are intentional and have purpose. Some days we will simply take a breath or a baby step and some days we run and leap.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)”
7. The End is Worth It
Dreams. Personal, professional, or spiritual goals.
Today I prefer the last line of Hughes’ poem…dreams deferred may simply be waiting to explode.
May we spend time remembering the passions and gifts that God has given us. Trusting His timing to bring them to fruition and finding joy in the journey.