What happens to a dream deferred?” asked Langston Hughes, African American poet. “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore—and then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over—like a syrupy sweet? Does it just sag like a heavy load? Or does it explode?”
These questions are relevant, as they affect not only our personal experience, but biblical, social, and religious history that are likewise filled with deferred dreams.
Abraham and Sarah, for example. Their dream of bearing the seed of promise was deferred for 25 years before it was fulfilled. Moses’ dream of leading his people out of Egyptian bondage was deferred for 40 years; besides, he never led them into the Promised Land.
Jesus had a dream that His followers would live in unity and love one another the same way He loves them. But that dream has also been deferred. The apostles’ dream that in their lifetime their Lord would return in triumphant glory to receive them to Himself also still waits realization.
February was long ago dedicated to the observance of Black History Month and the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., for an America in which all people would live in harmony and equally enjoy the privileges and resources of the nation. But in 2020 his dream is still trashed by some, and still in deferment.
Many dreamers and visionaries throughout history have been victims of deferment. God’s people always seem to be “in waiting.” It’s one of life’s inexplicable tensions with which Christians must cope until Jesus comes; that while God calls us to dream dreams and see visions, we must expect along the way we will encounter the disappointing, frustrating reality of deferred dreams.
We should no longer be willing to settle for the status quo.
But before we give up our dreams, let’s remember: the word “deferred” means delayed, not denied. Deferred dreams are not defunct desires; they are not impossible or improbable because their fulfillment may be difficult to imagine. If we wait on the Lord, He will renew our strength to keep dreaming, and deliver our dreams bigger and better than we can imagine or hope. The fulfillment of a common but eagerly awaited dream is the miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit promised in Joel 2:28 and repeated in Acts 2:17, 18.
The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit marks a major change in God’s dealing with His people. The promise includes extensive showering of grace on every believer, instead of trickles previously sprinkled on Old Testament priests or prophets or kings. In these last days the Spirit will be in God’s people, filled up, running over, regardless of race or gender or rank.
Yet it seems too often today that Christianity features divisions, defeats, and splits in God’s kingdom. Rather than specialize in separation and segregation of God’s people into factions and fragments, we should be summoning disgruntled sinners and disinherited saints to return to our God who is One (Deut. 6:4), and revel together in the heritage of the truth that all humanity is created equal and destined to be one in Him.
Let’s begin again, as if for the first time, to love as Christ loves us.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary.