First Tuesday in Lent: Nurturing Dreams

They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”
Genesis 37:20, RSV

It’s hard to hold on to dreams in the face of opposition. Ask Joseph, the main character in Genesis chapter 37. His brothers, tired of hearing about Joseph’s dreams, decided to rid themselves of him for good. If it hadn’t been for Reuben’s interceding, Joseph would have been killed—a heavy price to pay for dreaming.

Martin Luther King, Jr. paid the price for daring to dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” He was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray on 4 April 1968.

Mohandas Ghandi paid the price for daring to dream that one day his beloved India would be free from British rule. He was gunned down by a disgruntled fellow countryman on 30 January 1948, only five months after India gained its independence.

Not every dreamer pays the ultimate price for his or her dreams, but every dreamer meets opposition along the way. Sometimes that opposition seems insurmountable.

During World War II, when my dad was a young man, he dreamed of becoming a soldier, and spent one summer in a military camp. Then one day his dream turned into a nightmare when he was ordered to plunge a bayonet into a target shaped like a man and “twist to kill.” That was the day he knew he wasn’t cut out to be a soldier. He told his parents he was going to become a conscientious objector and perform alternative service for his country. His mother threatened to kill herself if he carried out his plan.

My dad faced a great moral dilemma: Should he listen to his mother’s threat or follow his conscience? After a great deal of soul-searching, he chose the way of peace, not war, and his mother, my grandmother, lived well into her eighties.

When opposition to their dreams arises, my students will probably not face choices as dramatic as my father faced. They are, after all, only sixth- and seventh-graders.

Yet someone is waiting to tell them that their dreams aren’t worthwhile; that they can’t do what they set out to do; that they are too slow, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too weak or too stupid to accomplish much of anything.

That’s why everyone needs a Reuben—someone who will defend them against the dream-killers.

And yes, teacher can be dream-killers just as well as anyone else. I have to be on guard day after day to make sure that I nurture, instead of destroy, my students’ dreams. I have to make an effort to use kind words instead of sarcastic words; to smile instead of frown; to affirm rather than put down.

The dreams-made-flesh in my students will bear witness to the nurturing work I have done. Who could ask for more?

Posted on February 23, 2010, in Lent. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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