Burning Desire

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?” ~ Langston Hughes

I’ve heard the phrase dropping from my lips like a refrain lately: “One day…”

It echoes in the room, over the phone, or in my head like a promise that is becoming pale. I read a call for essay submissions on a website, and I think, “One day.” A friend and I are chatting about a program of study she’s embarked on, which has long been on my wish list. “Susan, this program is made for you,” she declares, and I respond, “One day.” Another friend sends an email urging me to begin writing that book that’s long been calling. “One day” is my reply.

“One day,” I once proclaimed boldly, like a declaration of intent; now, I softy whisper it as an apology. To whom am I apologizing? Not to these friends, who are my greatest cheerleaders. They fully anticipate the day that I will pursue these things as if they already hold my book in their hands, ready to turn the first page. So, my apology must be aimed to my own heart, which feels a bit betrayed each time I make this pledge without any follow through.

“Look,” I explain, “I’m busy. And we can’t afford it. Hang in there until the boys graduate, and then we will pursue these things. Just five more years.” These words sometimes soothe for a while, but eventually, they diminish my desire and dull me into forgetfulness. Then, some reminder pricks my heart, and it begins to ache once more with longing for these dreams deferred. I’m starting to see my timeline for the scapegoat that it is: an excuse to delay the pursuit of dreams.

These dreams have risen in me over the past decade as I’ve journeyed out of fear and into wholehearted living. I don’t remember dreaming when I was younger, so it was as an adult that I first tuned into my heart and posed the question, “What do I desire?” I was met by silence. Desire is defined as “to strongly wish for or want something;” it had been a long time since I had “strongly wished” for anything. For my husband and kids, of course I had dreams. But for myself? Not really. Somewhere along the way I bought into the lie that being a wife and mother meant total self-denial and self-sacrifice.

It took a while to rekindle desire and to hear my heart’s response. Over time, however, I began to hear, and my dreams began to take shape. I believe they were written in my DNA when I was fearfully and wonderfully made; they feel as ancient as my soul but as fresh as my next breath. Some of them are still smoke thin, and I have no idea what shape they will take. Some are becoming solid and steady. During this time of waiting, my desires are being clarified and cultivated, and I am being prepared and matured in a myriad of ways. Now, these desires yearn for expression.

Recently, as the response “one day” slipped from my tongue, I felt God urge me, “Ask the next question.” Immediately I knew which question he was prompting me to ask: When? In that moment I felt God remove all excuses from the table and invite me to talk with him about the unfolding of my future—not the possibility, but the reality. I was surprised that as I prayed I felt timid. It may indeed be five more years before my dreams begin to manifest as I imagine, or it may be fifteen. Yet, it might begin tomorrow.

What if it hasn’t been God holding me back, or my responsibilities as a mother, or our finances?

What if it has been…me? What if “one day” has been my way of avoiding the risk or taking the next step? If I ask the question “when,” am I willing to receive the answer, whatever it is, and respond?

After his prompting I did risk asking the next question, and I received a response: “Today.” My default reaction was to ignore it; however, I realized that fear was controlling me, not desire. Instead of succumbing to this fear, I decided, “Why not today?” I composed an email that was the next step and sat staring at the blinking cursor. I knew that once I pressed send it would likely invite another step forward, and then another. Then, before I knew it, I would be moving in the direction of my dreams. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Blink…blink…I pressed send.

With each prayer I utter, asking the next question, I am opening myself to the probability that he will urge me forward. Will I respond out of fear or faith? Will “one day” continue to be the catchall for each of my deferred dreams, or can I believe that today may be the day to act? As I am faithful to respond, rather than dismiss desire, I am gaining strength, courage, and confidence. Desire continues to burn, and in its flames, my heart is coming to life.

Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.