All of us have dreams at one time or another. In fact, it is important that we have dreams, otherwise there is no purpose in life. Dreams give hope and orientation in life. Those without dreams will perish. Yet, some of us are living with shattered dreams. We had great dreams but they did not materialize. We feel angry with ourselves and with the world. We try to find scapegoats for our misfortune and failures. We are even angry with God and have given up on Him. If we are in this situation, then the scripture readings today provide us with some insights into how we should manage our dreams, even if they are broken dreams.
Where do dreams come from? Quite often, they come from our parents, as in the case of Jacob’s mother, Rebecca. She manipulated to have her younger son Jacob to be the one whom the family would be blessed. She had great dreams for Jacob. The dreams that come from our parents might be fraught with danger. Their dreams might not be ours and sometimes not from God either, but their own ambitions or unfulfilled dreams. Such a person trying to live out the dream of someone else can never be truly happy because that is not his dream. Even if he could do well, he will never excel and even if he could achieve much, his life remains hollow and empty.
More importantly, the dream should belong to the person himself or herself. We must dream our own dream. In the first reading, Jacob had his own dream. He dreamed that he would be a great leader and a successful businessman. He would own much land and would be the father of many descendants. He dreamt the Lord saying to him, “I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants shall be like the specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.”
Whilst it is important that we dream, at the end of the day, we must make sure that our dreams are aligned with the dreams of God for us. If our dreams are not aligned with His dreams, we might be chasing the wrong things in life; ambition, power, wealth, glory and status. If that were the case, we might never really be happy. So we must make sure that our dream is also God’s dream as in the case of Jacob, for the Lord promised him, “Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.” So the first thing we need to do is to ascertain if our dreams are from God.
Once we have ascertained that our dreams are aligned with God’s, we need to consider how to realize our dreams. The mistake of Jacob was that instead of following the ways of God, he took matters into his own hands. He used unscrupulous means to get things done. He first connived with his mother to cheat Isaac into taking away the birthright of Esau. That was his first mistake. Then later on, we read that he cheated Laban of his flock in a cleverly planned scheme whereby he agreed with Laban that all the dotted or striped animals would belong to him; and the rest to Laban as a payment for his salary. Laban did not know that Jacob would get the animals to mate in such a way that the offspring become marked. Truly, many of us are in bad shape and get ourselves into trouble because we use worldly and dishonest means to realize our dreams. We cheat, we steal, we betray and we even make use of our loved ones and friends to the extent of destroying their lives.
The lesson we can learn from this is that when we cheat and deceive people, we should expect to be cheated in return, just like Laban cheated Jacob of Rachel by giving him the hand of Leah instead. Dishonesty begets dishonesty. Evil brings evil. Again by wanting things his way, by living a sinful life, and by not treating his first wife Leah well, his favourite second wife Rachel was unable to conceive initially, whereas the former could. Truly, those who do wrong will ultimately sow seeds of self-destruction and attract evil into their lives. If we are not careful, we will end up destroying our dreams through deceit.
But what if our dreams are already shattered? What must we do? Are we hopeless? Is that the end of us? No, the scripture readings tell us that God is in charge. He is in control. He writes straight in crooked lines. He can restore the dead back to life. This was precisely what Jesus did in the Gospel. The synagogue’s official whose daughter was dead was raised back to life by our Lord. Nothing is impossible for God. If He could raise up the little girl, He could repair our wounds, heal our scars, rebuild our dreams and give us a new lease of life. The Lord is our life-giver. This is true for the woman who was suffering from bleeding. She was desperate like many of us. She could not find any cure for her long illness. She was suffering not just physically but emotionally. Because of her bleeding, she was considered unclean and therefore alienated and rejected. She was too ashamed even to let Jesus know of her illness, just like many of us who have kept all our dark secrets to ourselves, afraid to tell anyone for fear of shame and rejection. But she was suffering silently like many of us because of guilt and fear. So it was truly unbearable for her. Unlike the little girl who died, she was going through a living death.
What is needed then, if we want our lives to be restored and our dreams rebuilt? We must have faith in Him. We need to have the faith of the official who called Jesus to come even though his daughter was already dead. We need to have the faith of the woman with the hemorrhage whose faith was even greater. She did not even ask Jesus to heal her but secretly touched the fringe of the cloak of our Lord. And she was healed instantly. “Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the women was well again.” Like Jacob, we must also claim in faith that our prayers would be answered. Jacob made his pledge to the Lord too that when he became successful and returned himself safely, “Then the Lord shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.”
This is what the psalmist assures us when we place all our trust and hope in Him because He protects those who love Him. He prayed, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty says to the Lord: ‘My refuge, my stronghold, my God in whom I trust!’ It is he who will free you from the snare of the fowler who seeks to destroy you; he will conceal you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge. Since he clings to me in love, I will free him; protect him for he knows my name.” So let us not behave like the unbelievers who were skeptical that Jesus could raise the little girl back to life. They even laughed at Jesus, thinking it was totally absurd that He could do anything. For God, nothing is impossible because Jesus, in raising the little girl back to life, demonstrates that He is the Resurrection and the Life; the Lord of the living.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge and confess our sins and fears. Jesus had to call her out so that she no longer had to hide in shame. Allowing her to confess what she did was the only way to heal her of her fears and break free from her past. Indeed, confession and counselling are important instruments of God’s grace to heal us. If we continue to hide our fears, anger, weaknesses and sins, then we can never be healed. So long as we do not name the demons, we have no power of the demons in us. But the moment we name the demons controlling our lives, especially those of us who suffer from all kinds of addiction, whether drugs, gambling, alcohol or pornography, or anger or greed, then the Lord will give us the grace to break free of our bondages.
Thirdly, we must cooperate with His grace. We read in the bible that Jacob was a hardworking man; talented, resourceful and proactive. Indeed, he was singular minded in seeking to realize his dream. This explains why Laban his uncle want him to work for him and sought to retain his services for as long as he could. Later on, we read that because of Jacob, the business grew and the flocks multiplied and increased greatly. Then when he fell in love with Rachel, he asked for her hand in marriage but was told to work for seven years before he could marry her. And indeed, he waited for seven years. He worked hard and Laban his uncle was impressed by him. But when the time came, instead of giving him Rachel, he gave him Leah his elder daughter instead. He made him promise to work for him for another seven years if he wanted to have Rachel as his wife. To this condition, he agreed. He married Rachel the following week and fulfilled his contract for another seven years of labour. Nothing could deter Jacob from achieving his dream. He was ready for hard work and was a person totally committed to his goal. That was why he became such a great businessman.
So let us in faith and trust, have confidence in the Lord. Let us bring our dreams to the Lord. If it is His dream for us, He will make all things happen. We only need to cooperate with His grace, doing what we can and He will do the rest. At the end of the day, it is not hard work alone that achieves success but the grace of God. We can only do so much but God must supply the grace, the opportunities and the people to help us. If we trust in Him and seek to build our dreams in Him, the dream of serving His people and giving hope and life to others, He will certainly empower us and bring success to the work of our hands. If our dreams are shattered, it is because He wants to rebuild our dreams so that our dreams are no longer to serve ourselves and for our glory, but because He wants to use us to bless His people.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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