All I got was a blank stare. I had asked the group what their hopes and dreams for the future were. At first, no one knew what to say.
One person hoped he didn’t run out of money before he died. Another was scared about getting dementia. Someone else said he’d be happy just to get enough business to make ends meet. On the other end of the spectrum, another person dreamt of winning the lottery and winning the Pulitzer Prize, even though she doesn’t buy lottery tickets and doesn’t write much anymore.
Finally, someone blurted out that he doesn’t think in those categories. Hopes? Dreams? He’s just trying to get through life!
I felt sad for the “quiet desperation” I was hearing. At the same time, I was perplexed and deeply troubled. I continually meet people who seem to have no vision for their life. I hear comments that suggest that hopes and dreams are only for the rich, the lucky, the privileged. One pastor of a large, growing church even told me realizing one’s dreams doesn’t apply to 98% of the world’s population.
What? If Christians cannot hope for a better life, to realize their God-given dreams, or to fulfill their purpose in life, what in the world is he preaching and teaching?
Now, to be fair, the people who tell me that that hopes and dreams are not for them often are thinking about all that they cannot do. They have reluctantly come to the point of accepting that some secret aspiration that they have had is beyond their reach—becoming President of the United States, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, being a world explorer, or something equally grand. Or they feel demoralized after looking at someone else who has more money, more talent, more education, or more opportunity. With a twinge of envy, resentment, or resignation, they conclude that pursuing one’s hopes and dreams is only for a lucky few.
But does realistic thinking mean that there are not hopes and dreams that we can pursue? Do the special privileges of a few mean that we should give up on hoping and dreaming for ourselves?
I don’t think so. The nature, size and scale of our hopes and dreams will vary widely among us, but cannot nearly everyone aspire to something that they desire but is not yet a reality?
Abraham Maslow argued that humans must first meet “lower” level of needs before they will be able to pursue higher ones. That is, we start with seeking to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and security. Only when these needs are met are we able to move to higher level needs, such as love, friendship, self esteem, and ultimately self-actualization. As a general rule, I think he’s right. Yet, how many people have let anxiety over lower level needs unnecessarily keep them from simultaneously pursuing higher level needs?
Here’s another problem. When we talk about hopes and dreams, so often people think in terms of wealth, status, power, comfort, or material gain. Thus, those who think that they aren’t the lucky ones, or as smart or talented as others, or who don’t have the same opportunities as others, sometimes falsely conclude that there is no point to hoping and dreaming for them.
But what about hoping and dreaming in different categories? What about a dream of closer relationships? What about building a stronger community? What about joy from serving others? What about knowing and loving God better? What about pursuing meaning and purpose in one’s life? What about simply finding peace in the midst of so many situations outside of our control? These things are not dependent on luck, financial resources, or special opportunity. In fact, some of the materially poorest people in the world are some of the most vibrant people I have ever met. Yes, they have some unfulfilled hopes and dreams, but many also have other blessings—joy, friendship, community, meaning, purpose, vitality and so forth. These qualities of life might very well be available to more of us as well—if we would learn to hope and dream in these categories.
The many people I’ve been meeting, interviewing, teaching, coaching and observing lately show me that hopes and dreams can fuel vision for almost anybody’s life—with very good results. To know what one most values and cherishes, to believe that God has planted dreams in our hearts to serve God’s purposes, and to pursue a vision for a more fulfilling and purposeful life, is powerful, motivating, and life-changing. No matter how hard the work, or how frustrating such a pursuit can be at times, I can’t imagine not living with hopes and dreams.
Next week I leave for the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over 4 million people have been killed in civil war in the past decade or so. I will be leading a Pastors Leadership Conference, teaching and speaking to people who have struggled with basic survival needs to an extent I have never known. Will I find people who still have hopes and dreams beyond survival there? Will suffering Christians still have a vision for a more vital spiritual life, for healthier churches, for caring for one another effectively, for love and friendship, and for other “higher” level needs and aspirations? I don’t know. My experience suggests, yes.
What do you think? Are hopes and dreams beyond survival and security just for the lucky few in our world?