Martin Luther King's sermon, "Shattered dreams," strikes a universal tone. Who among us has not known deep disappointment?
Dr. King points out that starting with slavery, African Americans have faced more than their share of shattered dreams. And he praises those who, rather than resorting to resentment or fatalism, manage to retain a life- buoying hope rooted in the Divine.
It's clear, though, that King doesn't think blacks have a corner on the market of balancing frustration with hope. His recipe for conquering disappointment is timeless, raceless, genderless. He writes: "Our capacity to deal creatively with shattered dreams is ultimately determined by our faith in God.... However dismal and catastrophic may be the present circumstances, we know we are not alone, for God dwells with us in life's most confining and oppressive cells" ("Strength to Love," pages 95-96). God dwells, King would argue, even with the oppressor, trapped in the narrow confines of hatred and fear.
That there's no guarantee of quick victory over evil is no excuse to give up. "We Negroes have long dreamed of freedom.... Some of us," he points out, "will die without having received the realization of freedom, but we must continue to sail on our charted course. We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope" (pages 92, 93).
Sounds good, but how do you do it? How do you remain hopeful when your dreams lie shattered at your feet? I'm no expert on the subject, but I've found comfort and instruction in these words by the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy: "We must resign with good grace what we are denied, and press on with what we are, for we cannot do more than we are nor understand what is not ripening in us. To do good to all because we love all, and to use in God's service the one talent that we all have, is our only means of adding to that talent and the best way to silence a deep discontent with our shortcomings" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 195).
I carry that paragraph around with me for when I hit rock bottom and God seems a million miles away. At those times, the only way I can pray is to "resign" my failed hopes and thwarted dreams and "press on," one foot in front of the other. Moving forward, I've found, has a healing effect. With each baby step up and out of despair, I glimpse more of God's presence beside me. Sometimes that glimpse is no bigger than the smallest shard of my shattered dream, but that is enough to illumine my next step in the right direction.
After plodding along this way for a while, I remember that I can "do good to all" if I will "love all." The choice is mine - and I leap at it. For I know that letting love for others lead me will put more and more distance between me and despair.
Then comes the promise: If I use my life - if I use "the one talent that we all have" - in God's service, the "deep discontent" that still plays like a broken record in the back of my mind will finally be silenced. Once that has been muted, I'll begin to hear spiritual melodies and find myself dancing in a divine direction, "walking, and leaping, and praising God" like the man lame from birth whom Peter and John healed (see Acts 3:1-8).
That paragraph I carry around speaks to me of slow but steady progress from personal surrender to divine service. King echoes that same theme when he urges "transforming ... the broken remains of a disappointed expectation into opportunities to serve God's purpose" ("Strength to Love," page 92). From their different eras, launching different battles to free people from different kinds of bondage, both Mary Baker Eddy and Martin Luther King arrived at the same hope-preserving spiritual truth.
Whether our dreams have been crushed by forces beyond our control - injustice, disaster, or the death of a loved one - or we've shattered them ourselves through cowardice, poor judgment, moral laxity, or laziness, hope is not beyond us. Nor are we beyond hope - as long as we press on in God's direction.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart
is overwhelmed: lead me
to the rock that is higher than I.