On Unfulfilled Dreams

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Not long before his assassination, years after his “I have a dream” homily, Martin Luther King preached a sermon titled, “Unfulfilled Dreams.” His Scriptural text was I Kings, where King David wanted to build a temple to honor God. His dream went unfulfilled. Rev. King lamented that we all have dreams of erecting temples. We envision temples of character and spirituality, fame and fortune, and family and friendship. But these dreams never became temples of our desires and hopes. Expectations moped into disappointments, and opportunities veered off in unplanned detours. For those of Biblical faith, unfulfilled dreams often turn us to God. Some cling to God more tightly in yielded acceptance. Others turn from God in agitated anguish.

I remember three episodes as a kind of analogous of my broken dreams. After evening worship service at a denominational meeting, those in attendance were asked to pray together. I turned to a colleague who happened to be sitting next to me. Entered prayer, in mid-sentence, suddenly, I was overcome by a profound sense of brokenness before God. Long before that prayer, in the Spring of faith, I had longed to walk with God – to be a friend of God like Abraham, a bondservant of God like Paul, or after God’s own heart like David. Then, in my Autumn, that night I sobbed uncontrollably, for I realized my walk with God was at best pedantic.

The second time I wept was at a church board meeting. My young congregation was a difficult bunch – they bickered, complained, and opinionated indiscriminately. They plainly wore their pastor out. While talking to my church board, I began to whimper intermittently, plagued by a deep sense of incompetence. My whimpering whined into loud sobbing. Years ago, a giddy young man had responded to God’s call to ministry. Full of restless zeal, emboldened by senseless confidence, I envisioned of building a thriving church of worship and prayer. All I felt that night was a profound not-up-to-it-ness in my calling. My sadness realized that I did not have what it took to build a church.

My daughter hugged me good bye before she got in her car to go home. The evening before, we had clashed invidiously by our unrealistic assumptions and unmet expectations. Like with enough conversations with my other adult children, this one was also perpetrated by clumsy communication that aggravated a lingering misunderstanding. I embraced her tightly, and whispered, I love her. She whispered, I loved you too. With my buried head in her neck, suddenly I wailed loudly. For the next few days, I cried intermittently when I thought of my inadequacy as her father. When they were born, each time I had dreamt of being a strong, attentive and understanding father, and longed for an affirming relationship with each of them. Now that unfulfilled dream could only feed my diffident exasperation.

They say that older people cry more readily. Maybe because we realize more so the ubiquity of unfulfilled dreams. To be human is to dream, and to be human is to suffer unfulfilled dreams. C.S. Lewis says that the power of the Holy Spirit is not that we are competent in who we are, whom we are with and what we do. God’s empowerment is that we are adequate to try and try again. We try, we fail; we try again, so we can fail better. Toward the end of his sermon, Martin Luther King spoke these validating words: I want to hear a voice saying to me one day, I take you in and I bless you, because you try. That is the power of faith, the power of faithfulness, the power of the Holy Spirit, in our unfulfilled dreams.