Standing Firm in All Circumstances

Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you. —Romans 15:24 

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the disappointment faced by individuals and communities when reckoning with unrealized dreams. Inspired by the apostle Paul’s imprisonment, King calls for radical hope and determination:   

What, then, is the answer? The answer lies in our willing acceptance of unwanted and unfortunate circumstances even as we still cling to a radiant hope…. This is not the grim, bitter acceptance of the fatalist but the achievement found in Jeremiah’s words, “This is a grief, and I must bear it” [Jeremiah 10:19]. 

You must honestly confront your shattered dream. To follow the escapist method of attempting to put the disappointment out of your mind will lead to a psychologically injurious repression. Place your failure at the forefront of your mind and stare daringly at it. Ask yourself, “How may I transform this liability into an asset? How may I, confined in some narrow Roman cell and unable to reach life’s Spain, transmute this dungeon of shame into a haven of redemptive suffering?” Almost anything that happens to us may be woven into the purposes of God. It may lengthen our cords of sympathy. It may break our self-centered pride. The cross, which was willed by wicked men, was woven by God into the tapestry of world redemption.   

Many of the world’s most influential personalities have exchanged their thorns for crowns. Charles Darwin, suffering from a recurrent physical illness; Robert Louis Stevenson, plagued with tuberculosis; and Hellen Keller, inflicted with blindness and deafness, responded not with bitterness or fatalism, but rather by the exercise of a dynamic will transformed negative circumstances into positive assets.… 

How familiar is the experience of longing for Spain and settling for a Roman prison, and how less familiar the transforming of the broken remains of a disappointed expectation into opportunities to serve God’s purpose! Yet powerful living always involves such victories over one’s own soul and one’s situation.   

King’s hope is tied to God’s faithfulness and the transforming power of nonviolence: 

We Negroes have long dreamed of freedom, but still we are confined in an oppressive prison of segregation and discrimination. Must we respond with bitterness and cynicism? Certainly not, for this will destroy and poison our personalities. Must we … resign ourselves to oppression? Of course not, for this blasphemously attributes to God that which is of the devil. To cooperate passively with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil as the oppressor. Our most fruitful course is to stand firm with courageous determination, move forward nonviolently amid obstacles and setbacks, accept disappointments, and cling to hope. Our determined refusal not to be stopped will eventually open the door to fulfillment.…  

Some of us, of course, will die without having received the realization of freedom, but we must continue to sail on our charted course. We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope. Only in this way shall we live without the fatigue of bitterness and the drain of resentment.   

Martin Luther King Jr., “Shattered Dreams,” in Strength to Love (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 92–93, 94.   

Image Credit and Inspiration: Angelo Pantazis, untitled (detail), 2018, photo, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. We continue down our pathways, step by step, through both the drying and the greening seasons