When Your Dreams Don’t Come True

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Faith | 14 comments

Have you ever had dreams that didn’t come true?


We’ve just moved all of our posts from my previous site at To Love, Honor and Vacuum over to Bare Marriage, taking only those from 2018 forward. And we left about 1500 behind!

Some of those older posts, though, meant a lot to me, and I’d like to rerun one today. I hope it resonates with you too.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

I heard an interesting sermon on Sunday, and I want to share some thoughts that it inspired.

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.

Here’s the main thought: 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.

Now, none of this is to mean that other people shouldn’t adopt! I think more of us should adopt. It just didn’t work for us.

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 phone line would go dead (that never happened otherwise).

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.

He said,

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 three times in total (update: Now 4!)

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.

(Update: We also led another team in 2018, and Connor was able to come with us. My mother has gone a total of 14 times now, I believe). 

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.

She also has a friend from Kenya who lives in our hometown who is trying to help her own community, and we’ve been organizing some fundraising here too. And I would absolutely love to go to Kenya and talk to leaders in the church about marriage to equip them to teach others. I’m working on building those connections now.

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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 ironically, I told my best friend about our dreams and about fostering, and SHE ended up adopting a child from the foster care system. (Update: two children!)

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:

  • 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.

Sometimes God speaks extremely specific words into your life.

I have had that happen, and I can’t share it here because it’s not primarily my story. But I can tell you that hearing that very specific thing was different than the dreams I had. Those dreams were out of my heart; they weren’t a word from the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that they were wrong.

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 hope that makes sense today. I’m praying that this was something that somebody needed to hear today!


When Your Dreams For God Don't Come True

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

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Laura

    “We didn’t reach our dream, but God still worked because of those dreams.”

    Yes, this post resonated with me. For many years, even in spite of a failed marriage during my 20s, I yearned for a husband and children. I almost got married several years ago and thought this was the one God had for me, but this man and I realized we were better as friends (which we still are to this day). I’m 46 and have come to accept that I may never have that dream come true. Marriage maybe, but biological children, most likely not. I’m not giving up on believing that God has the right man for me, but I am not going to consume myself with constantly praying about it and hoping for it. I have decided to make the most of my life as a single person. I’m using my FREE time to finish graduate school in two years.

    I will say that one dream of mine that came true was becoming a published author. Within the last eight years, I have self-published two books and one of them, Living Single Today, came out of my strong desire for marriage. I wrote this book to encourage myself as a single woman and it turned out God used this book to help me encourage other single women. God used my dream that had not come true (marriage and family) to make my other dream come true (published author). He has a unique way of working things out.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that, Laura!

  2. Em

    This resonates every time I read it. Thank you for resurfacing your older posts.

  3. Anonymous for this

    Sheila, I *love* that part about the letters being burned to a crisp, everything else not working, etc. Years ago, I had a conversation on twitter with a woman who felt called to the religious life, but every single time she tried, something truly bizarre happened. She’s now married.

    The part where I will disagree with you is that this is all from God. We live in a broken world. We live in a world wherein one spouse might have to give up their dreams – or what they’ve achieved! – for the family. I can’t see any reason why it’s God’s will for only one person to get what they want in a marriage, but that often happens.

  4. EOF

    I love this! I’ve had to re-imagine dreams time and time again. But sometimes I’ve also had dreams merely delayed – interestingly they happened only after I accepted the fact the dream would never come true. It makes me think God waited for me to get my heart right about those things, not placing them higher in my heart than they should’ve been.

    • Laura


      I believe that it’s possible that my dream of marriage could be a delayed dream or it may not happen. I’ve just come to that place where I stopped making that dream an idol. It took a broken engagement and a few recent disappointments in the romance department for me to realize that God gave me life and I just need to make the most of it. After my broken engagement, I realized that the 15 years of unwanted singleness before I dated my ex-fiance was spent wishing I was married. I decided that I wanted to enjoy my life as a single person and not look back regretting that I wasted more years wishing I was married.

    • Chris

      I can understand the pastor’s comment from another perspective. What if your dream, your deepest desire was for a Christ centred, fruitful, intimate, marriage? You poured your heart and soul into that marriage for over 20 years only to see it crumble and you have to let it go, it’s out of your control. That can certainly cause a mid life crisis.

  5. Danielle

    I love this. Im 33 and have been through my own wee grieving/ understanding process with God – why my business idea I swear God placed in my heart didn’t happen in the time I had planned (I was an extreme time conscious/ planned out person). I understand the journey that I went on in tangent to grow me was more important and I believe that the business idea will come around after kids. But that was a hard process for a previous perfectionist. I appreciate your wisdom you share! May God continue to protect your mind and heart as you put yourself out there and continue to bless your hands for His work 🙂 Blessings from NZ x

  6. Codec

    You sure like helping people.

  7. Mila

    This really resonated with me Sheila! I truly appreciate this post. I’m rather young (22) and so I feel like I have so many dreams in my heart but God is saying “Not now”. A big one that I just can’t let go of is my dream of shifting how pregnancy and birth is approached in our western culture. I want to empower women to take control of their birth experience. I want to eventually become a midwife, but that is a long way from now. I will continue to lean on God for direction and take it day by day.

  8. Dreamless

    I wanted to go back to college since I graduated from community college 25 years ago. That was always my dream. I applied twice but the last time I applied the counselor was not very inspiring about a 46-year-old going back to college. I took that as a sign that that opportunity had passed and I needed to concentrate on my marriage. It took a while for me to mourn and accept the death of that dream.

    The other dream I had to mourn and accept was having an orgasm with my husband. None in the 20 years we’ve been married.

    I believed that the death of my dreams was God’s punishment for my sins. Hearing that God preferred another path for my dreams may one day help me with acceptance.

    • Angharad

      Dear Dreamless, I can’t read your comment and not respond. The death of your dreams is NOT God’s punishment. JESUS has already taken the punishment for your sins on the cross. There is no more punishment needed.

      I’m praying right now that God will give you a new dream – a dream that He will fulfil. He is able to do ‘immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.’ xxx

  9. Angharad

    I think that sometimes, our dreams can be used by God to nudge us in one direction, so that He can lead us to the vision that He has planned for us. I had a dream for a particular ministry that didn’t work out – but if I hadn’t had that dream, I wouldn’t have ended up going to the town where I met my husband, and we now have a new ministry together.

    And I remember hearing one preacher say that his dream of university wasn’t fulfilled when circumstances forced him to drop out in his first year. But he then became a pastor in a university town, and his one year of uni experience has been key in enabling him to reach the uni students.

    Our God never makes mistakes. He can take the broken pieces of our dreams and build them into a beautiful thing.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that!


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