“I’m giving up on love,” my friend said to her counselor. Frustrated by years of few good dates and even fewer godly men, she was seriously considering stopping the search and giving up her dream.
“I think,” responded her counselor gently, “we should increase our sessions to once a week.”
My friend laughed as she told me this story, and as we laughed we thought about the oddness of dreaming. For her the dream of marriage and children had practically been assumed. She’d never thought it wouldn’t happen. It was only a matter of time. But as time passes and she moves gracefully into midlife, she, like many of my single friends, doubts more and dreams less.
It’s as if by not hoping for it, not imagining it, not dreaming it, we think the pain of not having it may possibly be lessened.
But it won’t be.
We know this. We see the eyes of a 50-something woman tear up at a baptism, her dream of bearing children lost years ago but the pain of that loss as fresh as yesterday. We see the grief in the eyes of the divorced dad who loves his children more than life and desperately regrets past choices that cost them so much. We see the hunched shoulders of the 20-year-old working a job he doesn’t love because the college fund was emptied when the stock market tanked.
Good dreams by any measure: love, children, family life, college. All of these dreamers had reason to dream, reason to hope.
And reason to grieve.
The loss of a dream is an odd sort of grief. There is no burial, really. No end date. The loss of a dream comes gradually upon you as the calendar pages flip, until you realize the dream may not come true. The adoption from China. The graduate degree. The baby. The promotion. We age out of our dreams, and there is nothing we can do to stop that aging. There is nothing we can do to stop the losing.
Except, like my friend, to consider giving up the dream.
But if you have ever tried this, you know how hard it is. “Hope dies hard,” a wise friend told me once. “Hope dies hard.”
The tears in the crow’s-feet-edged eyes of the woman at baptism tell us that. The heavy silence in the car as the dad drives away from his children tells us that. The sighs that meet the sound of the alarm clock tell us that.
Hope dies hard. Dreams die hard. But often—too often—they die.
“Afterward,” God declares through the prophet Joel, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”
The apostle Peter quotes the prophet Joel in this passage we read at Pentecost. Accused of being drunk, Peter rises to defend his group. “We’re not drunk,” he says. “We’re just dreaming!”
It does seem an odd passage to quote. Psalm 2 may be a more fitting choice. It’s more obviously Messianic, and isn’t that what Peter is trying to get at? That Jesus was the Messiah and he was raised from the dead? Why start with Joel? Why start with the dreaming when what Peter is trying to say is that their long-shared, long-kept dream, the dream that had survived bad kings and worse exiles, the dream that had seemed like false hope for so long, the dream that God would show up in a mighty way as he had in the days of old, the dream of a Messiah had come true! The Messiah was here, Peter is saying. For real! Not a dream!
So why Joel?
Because Joel was a dream-keeper. Sure, his book starts with an awful warning about locusts who “rush upon the city; they run along the wall. They climb into the houses; like thieves they enter through the windows.” Gross! But then he writes a beautiful word of promise: “Then the Lord was jealous for his land and took pity on his people.” Joel then goes on to describe God providing grain, new wine, and oil. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten,” the Lord tells his people. And then the Lord speaks of the sending of the Spirit and the fermenting of dreams.
You will dream again, God is saying to his people. You will dream again. You will no longer be so concerned with survival that you will not be able to dream. You will no longer lie awake all night with worry so that there is no space to dream. You will no longer look to your future with anxious doubt, with palpable fear, with a bad feeling in the pit in your stomach. You will look to your future with hope. And not just the young, who will not remember the pain, but even the old ones who have seen it all and know better. Even they will dream.
And so, as Peter stands up before the crowd to speak of the Messiah, what the Spirit brings to his mind in that moment is a word of hope, a word of restoration, a word that calls people to believe that God will repay the years the locusts have eaten.
“We’re not drunk, you cynics! We’re dreaming! We are dreaming of the day when all people everywhere, in every language, in every place, will tell the work of the God who restores, who revives, who redeems the dreams of the brokenhearted.
The biggest, hardest, most impossible dream has already come true.
“And we dare to dream these dreams because the biggest, hardest, most impossible dream has already come true: that God fulfilled his promise to send a Messiah, and that the Messiah has conquered the worst dream-killer of all, death itself.
“So we stand here, spouting about God in a cacophony of tongues, because he has given us permission to dare to dream again.”
Dare to Surrender
The act of dreaming is an act of trust—that my future could look like this, that I will stay healthy enough to see it, that I will be disciplined enough to achieve it, that God will protect me enough to receive it. To dream is to trust, but it is also to surrender. To believe that even if this dream does not come true, even though, as another prophet says, “the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.”
So, Peter says to us, go ahead and dream. Go ahead and trust. And dare to surrender. Because what we have seen of this God, what we have seen of this Messiah, is enough for us to stake our lives on, dreams and all.