When most of us think of Martin Luther King Jr., his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech comes to mind. But King delivered another, lesser-known speech in 1968 at Ebenezer Baptist Church, called "Unfulfilled Dreams."
In this sermon, King recognized that we all have dreams and aspirations and that many never come to fruition. His lesson was based on biblical text, the eighth chapter of First Kings. He tells of King David's long-time dream to build a temple -- a dream he did not fulfill. Instead, his son Solomon built the temple after his death.
Martin Luther King's message reminds us that sometimes we cannot complete a dream ourselves; we can only pave the way for others. This is a common motif in the Bible. Recall the story of Moses, who does not fulfill his dream to enter the Promised Land, and, instead must leave the privilege to the next generation.
We often work toward a dream, knowing we can only complete part of the task; that we will pass the mantle to someone else. This is not failure. It is the act of enabling others to finish what we cannot. It is an awesome achievement.
We should take pleasure knowing those who come after may fulfill our unfinished dreams. For it's not just results that matter - the intentions and aspirations of our hearts count as well.
Still, the reality is that even in future generations, some dreams will never be fulfilled. When illness or a bad economy strikes, when we realize we are not as young as we once were, when those we care about die, when our personal relationships do not go as we had imagined, our dreams may no longer be attainable. These are dreams we must simply mourn. Their loss is part of the human experience.
What's more profound is that even knowing that some dreams will be shattered and that we will be left to think about what might have been, we keep dreaming. And our dreams still feel possible.
When we engage in the creative act of dreaming we move beyond our practical side. Allowing our imaginations to build something brighter is an incredibly resilient act.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." As we allow ourselves to dream, as we give voice to our dreams, and as we accept that not all dreams go as planned, we give ourselves the chance to experience astonishing beauty.
The ancient rabbis wrote in Pirkei Avot, "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
And so we dream.
While honoring Martin Luther King Jr., let's keep our dreams alive. And let's keep working to achieve our dreams, even though we know they may never be complete.