For the longest time, like maybe up until yesterday, I thought my biggest and best dreams were about saving other people. It’s a noble thought, I suppose. And I was going along pretty content with that theory until my mind started to wander to all the people in this world that needed to be saved. I started to drum up all the hypothetical mental images I have of all the worst-case-scenario atrocities in the world. I only suggest doing this about once a year. It’s not exactly an uplifting activity.
The more I thought, the more I just wanted to go lay down. The weight of it all was too much. It paralyzes me. How could I be so naive to think I could dream a dream big enough to fix all the pain in this world?
Jesus couldn’t do it. Ghandi couldn’t do it. Mother Theresa couldn’t do it. George Bush and Barack Obama combined couldn’t do it. The Buddha couldn’t do it. In fact, the Buddha started on his journey towards becoming the Buddha because he wandered away from the safety of his palace home and had his rose-colored glasses ripped off of him by seeing the pain of the people in the surrounding villages. He ran away to figure out what the purpose of human existence was in the light of all this suffering and death.
I think if we follow our dreams deep enough and long enough, we too have to stand at the great chasm of this gaping question. I don’t think it’s something we wrestle with once either. We’ll return to it multiple times, at different ages, at different levels of our own pain or at different levels of exposure to other’s pain. How does what I want out of this life matter in the light of all this suffering and death? Aren’t I selfish to want, to desire, to believe in so much more? Aren’t I selfish to dream at all?
As I think about all the areas of much-needed restoration in our world my breath becomes labored. I start to question all the good things in my life. I shouldn’t have joy because others don’t have joy. I shouldn’t get to live out my dream because others don’t get to live out their dreams. I shouldn’t get to foolishly spend my time with paint and words when there are people being murdered or raped or tortured or enslaved. And I start to realize what a sad life mine must become, if I entertain this game of matching suffering to suffering.
The problem with thinking your dream is going to save someone else is you don’t allow someone the dignity to believe in their own dreams. They think they need you in order to be made right or you think they need you in order to be okay.
What I’m feeling is this tension that tells us our dreams aren’t proper unless they are specifically targeted to deliver world peace or some other holy necessity. If that's the case then saying, “I want to write" or "I want to run” (like the man in the movie Chariots of Fire) is silly because don’t you know that people are dying?
We start to discount our heart and what it would enjoy. We start to downplay our pain and what it feels like to hurt. In essence we start to convince ourselves that we can not be ourselves because we must save those who are "subhuman."
I think it is dangerous to let go of your dreams or tweak your dreams for other people, even people who are hurting and suffering. We think it is virtuous and admirable, but I have to believe we are wrong. You must, above all costs, be true to the dreams inside you, even the seemingly selfish ones. You must go after them, unpack them, peel the layers apart and go deeper into them. Wrestle with them. You must know yourself.
People need people who know themselves, who believe in themselves. Why? Because it gives someone else hope that he or she is worth knowing as well. It gives someone else the permission to dive into his or her own life and make something of it. Suddenly I’m not dreaming a dream to save someone, I’m dreaming a dream to save myself, to have my own chaotic life make sense. And if my life makes sense to me someone else’s messy life has the chance of making sense to them.
I have a theory. My theory is that the bitter, angry, resentful, hurtful, or washed-up people of our world are the people who stuffed a dream, or failed to believe in a dream, or edited a dream or in the very worst case scenario, had their dream forcibly castrated by another. The reason they are so hellbent on damaging or distancing themselves from others is because they lost sight of their own true self and traded their dream in for a far more socially acceptable one or a far more power-hungry one. They have settled for far less and the result is a life of displeasure, angst, and upheaval.
It is far more likely that living out your true dreams with boldness and honesty and imperfection will have a residual and often unforeseen impact on the hurting world then if you trade your dreams in for more “holy” ones, so that you can save the world. It seems so backwards. Doesn’t it? How could my decision to be a writer (especially a beginner writer with little to no audience) have any sort of impact on the poor and hungry and hurting? But I don’t think it is our place to make those pieces connect, especially not in the beginning when we’re just putting legs on our dreams.
Our dreams haven’t even learned to take their first steps yet and we’re already chastising them for not using their wings. Wings will grow with time. They do not develop overnight. But should there come a day where our dreams would overlap with the world’s suffering, it would be far greater an accomplishment to be there, standing in our own perfectly imperfect, well-loved and understood skin then to be there in a cape that someone else has sewn for us. Beware of the cape.
Things to Consider:
- When you think about your dreams, do you start with an internal understanding and acceptance or an external obligation?
- Can you recall times you’ve gone after “shoulds” instead of after “wants?” Has that been a positive or negative experience?
- Make a list of the “buts” that keep you from going after your dream. Are any of these worthy excuses?