In his profound poem “If”, Rudyard Kipling encourages dreams, but cautions against making “dreams your master.” It is an important lesson for both parents and children.
Most mothers and fathers in America would happily profess that part of their parental responsibility is helping their children achieve their dreams. But we parents must remember that the content of the dream matters. We can never lose sight of the fact that the greatest dreams—the greatest aspirations—are those that align with God’s will for each of us.
Without God, it doesn’t much matter what the dream is. Without God, dreams become nightmares. Our current pop-culture accidentally teaches us this lesson every day. The misfortunes of pop culture icons who have publicly rejected God are difficult to miss. Seemingly, they fulfilled their dreams. Seemingly, they had it all. All except God.
We need to proactively and creatively show our children that while there is no enduring happiness without God, there is enduring happiness with God. In fact, pursuing one’s relationship with God is really the beginning of pursuing our dreams. One is not typically forced to choose between God and dreams—between God and most professions. One is not forced to decide whether to be an actor, for instance, or to follow God (though it may well impact the roles one takes). Hollywood offers some shining examples of what happens when people pursue both a passion for acting and a passion for God. Yet, it takes a strength of character to ensure that dreams do not induce a spiritual narcolepsy. There is no fulfillment in the absence of our Creator. And if the point of our dreams is not happiness and fulfillment, we need to wake up and find new dreams.
We parents must also remind our children what success means as it relates to dreams. Of course, sometimes children remind us as well. When our son, Athanasius, was growing up playing baseball and dreaming of playing for the Cincinnati Reds, he used to do something that I will always remember. While some kids tapped the plate with the bat, and others dug their cleats in the dirt, Athanasius did something different: every time he stepped into the batter’s box, he made the sign of the cross. He wanted to glorify God with his at-bats. I think he also wanted to remind himself that God was watching over him. Whether or not Athanasius proceeded to hit the ball, he already had a successful at-bat in making the sign of the cross. All of his brothers and sisters followed him in this new tradition when they played sports.
All of us step into the batter’s box. It might be our dream job, in which we may be tempted to pursue a lucrative deal rather than doing the right thing. Our batter’s box might be a conversation at work, in which we hear the Catholic Faith mocked, and we must decide whether to speak up or not—knowing that speaking up might mean losing out on our dream. In one way or another, life is a series of at-bats, and we all have to step into the batter’s box. And the question isn’t whether you’ll get a hit. The question is whether you’ll make the sign of the cross when you get there.
As parents, we certainly should encourage the dreams of our children, but illustrate that dreams must not alter our course on the road to salvation. As Kipling observed, we need to teach our children to be the masters of their dreams, and not the other way around.