You’d have to be fully off the grid, not to have heard of Susan Boyle, the 47 year-old woman who recently shocked the audience and judges of Britain’s Got Talent with the most incredible performance of The Dream I Dreamed from Les Miserables. It was featured on news shows throughout the U.S. and as of today the You Tube video has as of this morning been viewed over 12 million times.
It may be impossible to watch that video and not be deeply moved. There are lots of factors to that. If you want to read her back story, you can do so here. It’s great TV—the context, the diminished expectations, the surprise or an incredible voice and the passion behind her song. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something more. If you haven’t listened to the lyrics, listen carefully. This is the story of a young dream that life destroyed and the attempt to still find God in the disappointment. Here’s just a few lines:
And still I dream he’ll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather…
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed The dream I dreamed.
Part of the reason this is so powerful is not just her voice, but that her life seems a very parable of the song she sings. She had a dream to be a famous singer that had not be realized before last week, at 47 years of age. She’s not alone. A lot of very creative people live with similar disappointed dreams, and most won’t get this kind of break, even at 47.
Every child grows up with dreams, and the twists and turns of life often crush them. Sometimes that’s because they’ve been so abused and diminished that their spirit is crushed. Sometimes it’s simply that they don’t have the right look, or lived in the right place or had the right opportunity. But I suspect for many it’s because our dreams weren’t so much about the gift that was in us, but how rich, influential or famous we wanted that gift to make us. For every person that becomes a pro athlete, hundreds of thousands more get left in the dust. For every one who wins a gold medal, writes a best-seller, or cuts a platinum album, hundreds of thousands of others live like failures because they didn’t.
If our dreams hinge on the response of others, opportunities in this world are slim. By definition only a narrow few will end up playing professional sports, becoming a singing sensation or a best-selling author. If success only comes by being in the brightest spotlights, most of our dreams will be dashed as well. As I watched it for the fifth or sixth time last night, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re not so deeply moved by the performance of this incredible woman because through her we are getting a glimpse into eternity. It’s not the crowd or the lights that make her performance noteworthy, but the fact that she is simply doing in the thrill of the moment what God created her to do.
In our twisted perceptions of the 21st Century, it is easy to think this talent wasted since she never got this chance until she was 47. But does the stage validate the gift? Was she, or her music, any less moving or less valuable when she sang to herself in the kitchen or in local gatherings in her village? Was it less moving to the kind of God who splashes wildflowers across mountainsides no human will ever see? Most of the best gifts I know in this life will never gather the spotlight, or wow the masses. I’m not sure God ever intended them to. Perhaps even the unrelenting attempt to find a mass audience or a bright enough spotlight so easily distorts the dream, or the gift, or the person as well. We all know how the realities of competition and glare of celebrity does more to ruin people than it does make them more whole or well-grounded.
When we finally arrive in eternity, no longer tethered by our false expectations, no longer competing against others with similar gifts, no longer measuring our worth by the false demands of a broken culture, we will all get to celebrate the full beauty of exactly what the Creator sowed in our lives. And I suspect we’ll celebrate it in each other, perhaps like we see it in Susan Boyle, and in doing so it will touch the deepest joys and ecstasies of our heart. And the Father will thrill right along with us.
I know the reality of disappointed dreams, as I coveted a mass influence through my writing from a very young age. It tortured me. The desire was a tyranny all its own, and God won it from my hands almost 15 years ago. For the first time I found myself for the first time content to write for the love of God and let him do with it what he will with the result. I found absolute joy in simply writing what was on my heart and making it available on a website. And I was blessed by each life it touched in the gentle obscurity of God taking it to those he wanted.
And now I know what it is to be involved with a best-seller over the last year and I’d be less than honest if I told you it was all the joy I dreamed it would be when I coveted it so long ago. Notoriety brings a different set of pressures and a different kind of audience, and it is now harder to do what God has asked me to do in the shadow of what the world calls success than it was before. I find more joy in helping one life find freedom than I have in perusing a best-seller lists. And now, I hardly write since my days are full of obligations and responsibilities far afield from that which God originally asked of me. Over the next few months I’ll be moving away from this space back to where Jesus has asked me to walk.
So here’s what I’m thinking as I watch that video: Isn’t it enough that all of us ply our creativity, gifts and dreams for an audience of One. It is enough that God hears us sing, that God reads what we write and that the truest joys are not doing it professionally, if we lack the opportunity, but doing it as hobby, sport and passion. Saying someone is an amateur has become a put-down today. But the root of that French word is people who do what they do for the love of it, not for money or the light of the stage.
And while I understand those who would love to see their passion find a greater voice and place in the culture, it is not failure for God’s grace in you to touch the people he has put before you, rather than the unknown masses. Your story is not validated because it spawns a book; your song is not more precious because it secures a recording contract. So sing, write, paint, plant, nurture, design, act, and build however it brings joy to your heart. And let God open whatever doors he has for it. Knock where you will, search as you have direction, but don’t despise the audience God has already given you—your children or spouse, friends and family, and local opportunities to touch lives in tens and twenties, rather than frustratingly trying to find a path to the thousands.
And I wonder if some of the dreams we carry in our heart, were never meant to find their fulfillment in this life. Perhaps they, too, are portals to a different age and time. Maybe they are a glimpse into that unrestrained eternity that will allow us all to be fully all that God created us to be. I’m convinced our greatest creativity and ecstasy lies beyond this temporal time zone.
And one day we will all know the absolute thrill of doing in freedom and joy the very thing God made us to do—that gives him and us the fullest of joys.