I’ve always been a fan of Les Misérables. I’ve seen it on stage more than once and enjoyed it immensely every time. When the movie was released in 2012, I remember marveling at the performance of Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and thinking to myself of her dual roles as actor and singer, “How can any one person be so incredibly talented?” And Hathaway sang every take live in the film!
As Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel comes to life, one song in Les Mis is particularly arresting: I Dreamed a Dream. The song represents a powerful moment of lament within the musical’s first act, as Fantine has been fired from her factory job and thrown out onto the streets. Feeling completely discarded by fate, she is remembering happier days, and wondering aloud where everything went wrong.
“But the tigers come at night with their voices soft as thunder, as they tear your hope apart, as they turn your dream to shame.” If you have a pulse, at least on some soul-level here on this sin-stained and fallen planet, you can relate. So can I.
There are many times in life when hope seems lost. Particularly as we sense the reality of our aging, we become vividly aware that many chapters of our lives will not end like a Disney movie. Dreams are fun to embrace for a season, but life quickly teaches us that fairytale endings are, well, for fairytales. How do we push forward when the tigers come?
My current preaching through Hebrews 11 has inspired me to relive a significant chunk of our Old Testament history, which has been quite heart-refreshing for me. Just hours ago, as I reread portions of Abraham’s life, I stopped to reflect upon the death of Sarah, Abraham’s beloved bride. In Genesis 23, it becomes crystal clear that Abraham’s story will be one of unfulfilled dreams. That’s not the totality of the story, of course, but it’s a part of the story that really matters. You and I can relate.
Sarah dies in the land of Canaan, and the Bible drives home the point that she will be buried there. Abraham, pushing through his personal grief, negotiates the purchase from the Hittites of a small parcel of land which becomes Sarah’s grave. Abraham and Sarah have been sojourners, and they own nothing. But this tiny piece of real estate becomes in the story a token reminder that the Promised Land will one day belong fully to God’s covenant people.
Lament is an important and necessary part of living. We tend to recoil at even the thought of lament, preferring instead to pretend that the yellow brick road is right under our feet. After all, who in their right mind has time to grieve? But grieve we must. Some important dreams and hopes continue to hang out in the “unfulfilled” column of life’s ledger. As Christ followers, that column might better be described as the “not yet” column, but that fact doesn’t always remediate the present moment of anguish.
Abraham is a nomad and a resident alien. He has no legal rights. But, by faith, he walks forward one step at a time. He politely suggests an appropriate burial site, and the Lord blesses Abraham’s interactions with the powers that be. By leaving their bones in Canaan, literally, our spiritual patriarchs spoke loudly of the hope they possessed in the promises of God. Keep in mind, friends, that there was nothing happening around them which made believing those promises easy at all. Nothing!
So fight the good fight, friends. Stay the course. Run with endurance until you cross the finish line. Some of our dreams for this life will pan out nicely. Others will wilt in the excruciating heat of life’s bitter trials and overwhelming disappointments.
I dreamed a dream. So did you. But who needs a fairytale ending here when we’re headed for a homeland that’s absolutely out of this world?
So get your jollies now, all you ferocious tigers. You’ll soon lay down with the Lamb.
One day more!