Have you ever had dreams that didn’t come true?
We’re right at the cusp of fall, when people are making plans for the year ahead, and looking back over the year that has past. We want to do it better this year. We want to be more organized. We want to finally make some progress!
But in that thinking and planning, there’s often a lot of self-doubt and recriminations.
We thought we’d be further ahead by now. We’re not doing what we thought we would be doing. We’re falling behind.
I came across a post I wrote a few years ago that spoke to me again, and I thought I’d rerun it today, since I’m camping and I need a bit of time off! But I pray that, as you get into planning and circumspection mode, it speaks to you, too!
First, let me tell you about a sermon I heard recently.
The pastor made the point that there are two kinds of mid-life crises:
- Those you have when you realize you’ve reached all your goals–so now what?
- Those you have when you realize that you will never reach all your goals
And I thought about that second one–when you realize that all the dreams and goals you have for yourself aren’t going to be fulfilled.
Is it really so bad to have dreams that don’t come true?
Let me tell you about two sets of dreams I’ve had.
Dream #1: I wanted to adopt two kids
I remember as a teenager working at summer camps with troubled youth that what I wanted as an adult, more than anything, was to adopt some kids who really needed me. I’d watch movies and read stories about adoption and I would cry and vow to rescue kids.
When I married my husband he wanted the same thing, too. In fact, we made a plan: two of our own, two adopted.
When our girls got to be around 8 and 6 we thought it may be time to start looking at adoption. So we enrolled in the course at our local Children’s Aid society. We took all the training and had the home study done. And then these little foster girls came into Keith’s office (he’s a pediatrician) one day. Keith got to talking with the foster mom. They needed a family so badly. The girls were 8 and 2.
We thought about it and we were so excited! So we took the kids for relief for a few weekends.
And we realized it would never work.
It wasn’t that they weren’t great girls; it’s just that the 8 year old was the same age as Rebecca, and she was just so different. Rebecca was so far ahead of her academically. The comparison would be terrible.
So we knew that if we were ever going to adopt, it would have to be almost as two distinct families, when our own girls were older, because to mix them in would be messy.
We felt a definite “NO” from God.
But by the time the girls got to the age where we could have had two distinct families, I was traveling all the time for speaking. We were taking a lot of missions trips to Africa. And we didn’t feel the same pull.
In fact, I had a distinct message from God when I was speaking one weekend. I was out for a walk on the beach at the retreat centre, and I was pouring out my heart to God about how sad I was that I hadn’t met my dreams. I was 35. I really wanted more kids. And I heard distinct words in my head and heart that God had other plans for me over the next ten years, and that my time as a new mother was over, and that was okay.
Here’s dream #2: We always wanted to spend a protracted time with the girls on the mission field.
Keith and I had always said that we would spend some time overseas with the girls, and in 2002 World Vision sent us a fundraising letter for the Mulli Children’s Family home in Kenya, where they rescued girls from the sex trade (along with other work). It’s home to 800 orphaned and abandoned children, and has rescued more than 4000 over its years. We gave money, and decided then and there that when Rebecca was 13 and Katie was 11 we’d go spend a year helping there.
My mom found out about this, and thought, “there is no way they’re taking my grandchildren to Kenya without me checking it out first.” So in 2004 she headed to MCF herself. She fell in love.
In 2006, our family went to Kenya for the first time ourselves.
It had such an impact on the girls. We spent two weeks there and then one week at a missions hospital to check it out.
Keith and I made plans to spend the school year 2007-2008 in Kenya. He would work at the missions hospital, which was overjoyed to have him come and teach pediatrics for two semesters, and we would take some trips down to the Mulli Children’s Family, too. The girls would go to the missions school that was right at the hospital campus and get to know some missionary kids.
We had been saving the money for years to go. We arranged for him to have a sabbatical from the hospital. We found a family to live in our home. And we applied to the missions organization.
At first they were excited to have us.
But then weird things started to happen. Two representatives came over for dinner one night and made it clear that every missionary under the auspices had certain theological beliefs on what we felt were fringe issues.
Then, every single time that they phoned us our line would go dead.
Then they wanted to send Keith to a different country altogether, where our kids would have to go boarding school away from us. Not going to happen. They relented, but made it clear they weren’t happy with us.
Then our acceptance package arrived in the mail–burned to a crisp. It came in a ziploc bag with a letter from Canada Post saying, “We’re sorry, but the mailbox where this was mailed was set on fire, and this is all that remains.”
We wondered about this. Was it a sign from God?
So we talked to Shaun, a good friend of ours, and asked what he thought.
If God wanted to give you a sign, what else could he do?
We told the missions agency no. We bought a new house, changed churches, and our lives went in a different direction.
In December of 2007, Kenya had an election. Tribal warfare broke out afterwards. We would have been right in the middle of it. God knew to keep us in Canada.
But we still went back to Kenya–after the violence died down! We’ve been there four times in total.
In 2010 we led a medical missions trip with 7 Christians and 18 not-yet-Christians. And it was the best team we ever led. Eighteen people got to see the gospel in action. They were changed. It was awesome.
My mom has returned seven times since her initial trip in 2004. She’s raised tons of money for them. She’s brought so many people over, leading tons of trips. And she’s introduced many friends to Jesus, too.
And it all started because Keith and I, when the girls were young, decided we wanted to go live there. We didn’t reach our dream, but God still worked because of those dreams. And He did an amazing thing in my mother’s life that would never have happened had we not had those dreams.
UPDATE: And we went again in 2018, taking Connor and Rebecca with us, with another medical team! It was wonderful. One of the highlights was Keith working with a Kenyan doctor, who grew up at the children’s home and who was friends with Rebecca when they were young. To see him grown up, married, with a child, and now a doctor, was amazing.
What do dreams mean?
I think when we have dreams of what we want to do for God, it simply means that our hearts cry out to be significant. God sees that. God honours that–as if we had actually done it.
Those dreams may come from an honest heart. But they don’t necessarily come from God.
Does that make sense? Just because you have a good dream doesn’t mean that this is God’s will for your life. Now, dreaming something that isn’t God’s will isn’t wrong. Do you remember the story of Paul and his companions in Acts 16:6-9? They had this vision of expanding their preaching, and tried to go to Asia. The Holy Spirit stopped them. So they tried to go somewhere else. Nope. God stopped them there, too.
Then one night Paul has this dream about the man calling him from Macedonia. And they get in a boat, sail to Macedonia, and meet Lydia, the first European convert (who also happened to be a woman who wears purple! I have a commenter called lydia purple who loves that story, too!).
Were they wrong to try to go to Asia? Were they wrong to go to Bithynia? No, of course not. But that wasn’t what God wanted for them. In making the effort, though, they showed God their willingness to serve Him.
Sometimes we have dreams that are very, very good but aren’t from God.
Just because something isn’t from God doesn’t mean it’s bad; it only means that it may not get done. But God can still use those dreams in our hearts. God used my dreams to help troubled kids by sending us to Africa instead, and giving us a heart for the work so that we have supported them financially for years. And ironically, I told my best friend about our dreams and about fostering, and SHE ended up adopting a child from the foster care system.
God used our dreams to take our kids on the mission field to give our children a vision of the world they may not otherwise have had. He took my mom on amazing adventures she may not have had. But our dreams didn’t come true the way we saw them.
I think God wants us to dream dreams and put in effort to meet those dreams–just like Paul and his companions did. And if we’re going in the wrong direction, God will stop us, like He stopped Paul and like He stopped Keith and me. But two things to remember:
2 Things to Remember about Dreams
- If God stops you, it doesn’t mean you dreamed wrong
- If your dream doesn’t happen, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed at your life’s purpose
I’ve been trying that read-the-Bible through in a year thing for the last few years, and I’ve been reading it more like stories and less like a Bible study where you pick apart each word. And the thing I notice, over and over again, is how God does speak specific things to people, but He does it very rarely. Maybe once or twice over their entire lives. Other than that, He wants us to figure things out and walk in faith.
What am I trying to say? I guess it boils down to this:
It is good to dream big things for God. It is good to work towards those dreams. But if those dreams don’t happen after you worked and prayed and prepared, then that is because God is honouring the heart behind the dream rather than the dream itself. So don’t feel like you’ve failed. Your job is to dream; it is God’s dream to bring it to fruition. And if it doesn’t happen, it’s only because God has something else.
I’m praying that this was something that somebody needed to hear today!
And if you’re busy visioning for your family, and praying for a vision, and wondering about your dreams, I have an awesome download you can use with your spouse to work through and pray through this together! Just sign up below.
Have you ever had a dream that didn’t come true? How did you reconcile that with God? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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Oh, Sheila, this is such a beautiful and poignant entry. Thank you so much for sharing.
It also hits home for me. I’m just about to close in on my first week in a new city. This is the first time I’ve ever been away from my family and community. I’m finally getting to pursue my dream of grad school, which is something I truly feel I was born to do, but leaving my hometown also meant letting go of some other dreams — including finding true love with my best friend. I waited years for him to make up his mind, but I realized that all the love and faith on my part could never bear the weight of what was becoming a one sided relationship, and that to pursue one dream, I had to lay down another. I’ve never felt more peace about a decision in all of my life, but I’d be lying if I said the goodbyes didn’t sting.
Sorry for rambling, but your post today fits in perfectly with my melancholy mood. 😉
What if the dreams you have are stifled by others and you are are always made to feel as if your dreams and your aspirations don’t matter (particularly because you are female) because once you become a wife/mother THAT is your job and identity ? ( not MY situation exactly but I know LOTS of women are in this forced subservient role.)
Also my take on Dreams is that you should at least try to make them come true. I’ve been listening to a lot of motivational speeches on Youtube lately and came to the realization that there are some things I do not want to be on my death bed regretting that I didn’t even TRY or REACH for. I’m 40, my lifespan is half over, statistically. I don’t want to waste the other half.
Referring to your biological kids as “our own” in contrast to adopted is cringe-inducing. Wouldn’t they have been your own too?
I agree with your statement. My husband and I have a son that we adopted and we also have 2 biological children. All 3 of them are our children and are absolutely equal to us. I am sure that Sheila meant no harm. As adoptive parents ,it does sting when people make statements that they don’t have any understanding of.
I did mean no harm, truly! But that’s one reason we decided not to adopt, because I realized with the two children that were in our home that I wouldn’t be able to think of it that way, and you shouldn’t adopt if you don’t think of it that way. They were just so different from Rebecca and Katie, and yet too similar in ages at the same time.
I think it is important to look at our dreams and examine them for what they say about ourselves.
I spent a lot of time trying to prove something to the world. No matter what I accomplished, it was never enough. It turns out, the only person I was really trying to convince was myself.
That’s really insightful, Doug.
3. Dreams you’ve achieved but gave up in your middle age because your husband is so insecure that any talk of you repeating your success results in a fight.
Oh, I’m sorry, Jane.
My husband and I wanted to have children. After 3-4 miscarriages and surgery for removal of a tubal pregnancy, it looked like it just wasn’t going to happen. We went to a fertility doctor to determine what was going on. We could have pursued pregnancy but it would have been very costly. We were praying about adoption but felt no impression from God that this was His plan for us. With much prayer, we laid down the dream of having children. Friend’s pregnancies, Mother’s Days and Father’s Days were hard. But we’d seen so many people’s lives consumed by the fight against infertility and the desire to have children that they failed to recognize and appreciate the other blessings in their lives. In our case, I got the distinct impression from God that to hold on to that dream too tightly would have amounted to idolatry. I am speaking here only of our experience and make no judgements about anyone else’s journey. Only God knows each person’s heart, plan, walk.
As it turned out, us being without children freed us to help care for our parents as they became older and unwell. My husband and I both also had sisters who developed medical problems that necessitated nursing care. Had we been raising children, we would not have been as available to help these family members during their times of need. I was also available to do volunteer work in a local nursing home and help my husband full time in his business.
My husband turned out to be an important mentor to many young men in his business, becoming the most stable force in their lives at some points. We’ve hired young men coming out of the military, supported them through their years of dating, marriage, having families, and sometimes divorce. Our business has not only provided for their material needs as well as ours, it has also been very much a ministry.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Is. 55: 8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We have to trust that God Almighty knows what He’s doing.
This is beautiful and so encouraging. Thanks for sharing your story!
I’m really struggling with repeated loss of dreams. I had a dream my whole life to homeschool my kids. And I did for several years, and loved it.
And then my husband suffered injuries in a car wreck and could no longer manage his business solo. He needed me to join him full time to keep things running. So I gave up on homeschooling. And I retooled my dream to care about the work we were doing together. And it was great.
And then he was injured in a second car wreck (the two wrecks were nearly identical and both 100% the other driver’s fault). It has now been almost a year and there is still no immediate prospect of him returning to work. One of the businesses we had going we had to pull out of entirely and I’m trying to run the other one solo and I hate it. Not the work itself but the management. I wanted to work together; I am not an entrepreneur. But things are still running and I think I can still support the family this way.
But I hate that I largely missed out on my kids’ late elementary years, which is my favorite stage of childhood. And now I am missing out even more on their adolescence. There is no getting these years back. They will be grown before these situations are resolved. And in the meantime I’m too tired to be much of a mom.
Without having the work together to look forward to, I feel like life is just a series of working to pay the bills. I am grateful that I have the skills to support the family, that I still have good relationships with my kids. But I miss having something to dream about.
Eliza, I gave up this same dream. Our case due to unemployment and other situations that have caused my husband to be very “under employed” in a job that doesn’t pay all our bills. So I work …and like you, am capable but hate it. My youngest is 10 and she is in good hands as such at her school….but I wanted it to be ME that was her biggest influence.
I have been misunderstood by moms who “love” working and tell me thousands of women “have to” work and I need to accept it. And I do because I must. But I am glad to hear from a woman who has the same heart and “dream” as I do/did.
Thanks, Connie. My kids are also happy and in good hands at school. But I still miss it a lot. (And I know there are people who are like, “Well, you can work and homeschool!” Maybe they can. But I cannot. Not working a mentally and emotionally intense 8 hour day, and coming home to five people with chronic medical issues. Most nights it’s more than I can do to check homework.)
I understand this feeling
I appreciated your post Sheila. One thing the Lord has really led me through is the importance of MOURNING the lost dream. I come from a long line of emotional stuffers and it has been so good to learn to mourn what feels like the death of a dream. Some of the things I have mourned have turned to happening later and some may never happen, but the intimacy I have gained with the Lord by taking that hurting heart from a dream unfulfilled and admitting it (all of it even if you’re angry or hurt that the dream isn’t happening as you planned!), mourning it, and leaning into Him has helped me to move forward and grow in my trusting Him for whatever is next.
For example, Aspen Paisley would have been the name (if it was a little girl) of the child that we miscarried a few years ago. I had a lot to mourn there. Lots of broken dreams in a lost pregnancy. Hence my alias “AspenP” 🙂
Oh, that’s lovely, Aspen!
Thank you for this post. My husband and I were just recently discussing our dreams. God has changed directions for some of our dreams, and it has left us wondering what new dreams or plans He has in store for us. I appreciate your ministry so much.
I know God lead me here. Boy did I need to read this. Today I cancelled my application to graduate school. It didn’t work. It was a dream my parents had for me to be a scholar and I thought I was gonna run a non profit. It didn’t work and it hasn’t. The other dream I had was to get married but my father has another family and they are in a totally different set of circumstances then me. If I was to marry there were be constant conflict in my family bc I’m from my dad second marriage. I thought it totally unfair but now I see by you sharing your story with the adoption how division can make everyone miserable and how it’s better just to honor God’s no. I hope this means God has something better bc it’s truly a bummer at times I always thought dreams come true but mine didn’t.
Hi Ivy, I’m so sorry that you’re having to give up on dreams, and i know they’re hard! I’m curious about why you think you have to give up on the dream of being married just because you’re from your father’s second marriage? Even if it would cause division in the family, we’re not to sacrifice something so huge so that others who aren’t mature and who aren’t acting in a loving way don’t have bad feelings. If they love you, they would want the best for you. If they don’t want the best for you, or are prioritizing their own selfishness, then what’s really needed is some boundaries with them.
This reminds me of reading a YouTube user’s comment on a mother-daughter argument scene from a movie. The mother and daughter had both been at long last reunited after a traumatic event, but tensions and PTSD keep flaring until they break out accusing each other of not caring enough to see their side of the trauma. The YouTube user gave an almost revolutionary perspective: The reason the argument even happened was because both characters were approaching the past trauma with the mindset of “Think about how BAD this was for ME,” instead of asking each other “How bad was it for you?”
In other words, it happened because they never took the time to be open-minded about all the different sides and situations of the same trauma.
This could actually be a really useful way of dealing with disappointment and heartbreak and staying close to God throughout it. Because although God knows all of our emotions, we so often mistake His own feelings and motivations for his decisions and answers. So instead of demanding “How could you do this,” or even begrudgingly, bitterly agreeing in reluctance to His plan (“Your Will Be Done,” which is still a great prayer as long as it’s not for the wrong reasons), it could do us a lot of refreshing good to start asking Him in prayer “How do You feel about my dissatisfaction right now?”