All over the country this is graduation season. Young men and women are fidgeting while commencement speakers tell them to pursue their dreams. Not every speech uses the words, but the gist is usually “Go for it; pursue your vision with purpose and energy and commitment and focus!”
I confess that this go-for-it sentiment has always appealed to me. In college a carefully lettered sheet of parchment with a piece of prose by T.E. Lawrence was tacked to a bulletin board beside my desk. “All men dream, but not equally. They who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it is vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they act their dream with open eye, to make it possible.” I loved the idea of being a dangerous man who acted his dreams.
It’s now a long time since college graduation for me, and looking back I see more clearly the important difference between dreamers. We all dream both day and night. Occasionally, we all have strange dreams while sleeping. In the morning we laugh (or tremble) at the fragments remaining in our minds, and we wonder what those dreams mean.
But we are also “dreamers of the day.” We daydream about life. Some blurry picture of our future is mixed in our thoughts. We anticipate where we will be or what we will do or with whom we will do it. The difference between day and night dreams is less about when we dream, but what we dream.
We are taught to daydream from the time we are first asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Playing as children in the backyard, we start to pursue those dreams. As we grow, we choose courses that we hope will move us towards those dreams – sometimes school courses chosen so we might become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or artist. We work and save. We pick our clothes, our friends, even our churches to get where we want to go. We all dream, and we all act to make our dreams come true.
And we are encouraged to keep dreaming. Advertisers make more than 3,000 pitches to us every day, tantalizing us with images of homes, cars, relationships, jobs, vacations, and more. They train us to be dissatisfied with almost every aspect of our current reality. Friends and families make their expectations known. Teachers and bosses subtly suggest, or not so subtly, what we ought to be dreaming about. Even our country has a dream for us — the American Dream, defined by the norms of our neighborhood. Our lives are filled with voices saying, “Dream, dream big, and I’ll tell you what to dream for.”
The really hard part of dreaming is choosing the right dreams. I can still hear the echo of an Urbana speaker from years ago leaning slightly into the microphone and whispering to the audience, “Don’t dream all the wrong dreams.” Her words startled me then, and they still cause me to wake up and look at my dreams. It is so easy to dream the wrong dreams. It is too easy to forget where you really want to go and settle for what is comfortable. It is even easier to follow the dreams of the crowd around you.
Dreaming the right things is a good thing. We are creatures who can not help but anticipate the future, even if our vision is not focused. God intends us to dream because he has a picture of the future. You don’t need to read far in Scripture to find the things for which to dream. What does it look like to dream of justice rolling down like streams of water? What does in mean to dream about living always in the presence of God the king? How do we dream of every creature in heaven and on earth acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord? Dare we dream of taking up our cross to follow Jesus? Can we see those dreams with clear eyes?
I’m still a dreamer. And I still want to be a daydreamer who acts his dreams to make them real. But Lawrence was wrong. It not whether we dream at night or day that makes us unequal, it is what we choose to dream about that sets us a part. The right dreams are worth pursuing for a lifetime.
Scott Wilson is the Communications Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.