As I approached my 30th birthday, I found myself weighing my life against the picture I’d had for it in my early 20s.
In that picture, by this time, I’d be married with a happy and healthy family, a couple of pets, a thriving career and ministry, weekend adventures, a great social life and, ideally, I’d have all this whilst looking like I’d stepped out of the covers of a fashion magazine. I would be confident and strong. I’d know who I am and what I want and where I’m going.
Of course, nothing looks the way that I thought it would. Chronic, and at times debilitating health issues keep strict boundaries on what I can and cannot do. The last years of my 20s were stolen away in a global pandemic. I’m not really sure where I’m going or what the next step is, and more often than not, I’m still figuring out who I am and what I want. It’s possible that I am growing less rather than more confident in most things and instead of going from strength to strength, I am acutely aware of my weakness. Held side by side, my expectations and reality clashed in sharp contrast with one another and it was hard. I grieved for those unmet hopes and dreams and for the possibilities that passed by just out of reach.
Sometimes all I want is to wallow in my self-induced misery and this was one of those times. But, I memorized Psalm 16 a few years ago and it was insistent in pushing its truths to the front of my mind – “I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’ …Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.’ (Psalm 16:2, 5-6 NIV).
It was that last sentence that got me. The boundaries in my life seemed painful and restrictive, the inheritance empty and unfulfilling. They grated against me and against my dreams, binding and stealing and keeping me from the good things that I wanted. I would have dismissed them, but the words of the psalm wouldn’t let me go.
That’s when I stumbled upon ‘A Liturgy for the Death of a Dream’ in Every Moment Holy, Volume 1. With endless compassion, the liturgy entered into my grief and frustration, validating and giving voice to the turbulent emotions in my heart. And then, oh so gently, it challenged me to look again. “My history bears the fingerprints of grace…. My disappointments reveal so much of my agenda for my life, and the ways I quietly demand that it should play out: free of conflict, free of pain, free of want. My dreams are all so small. Your bigger purpose has always been for my greatest good… And You, in love, will use all means to shape my heart into those perfect forms. So let this disappointment do its work…. Here in the ruins of my wrecked expectations, let me make this best confession: Not my dreams, O Lord, not my dreams, but Yours, be done.”
What if the boundaries I was looking at were not boundaries at all, but transformed and redeemed to be means of precious grace drawing my heart to my wise and loving Father? What if the shards of broken dreams I was grieving were good, yes, worth grieving, yes, but cheap and flimsy compared to the treasure I have in Him? What if the disappointments and the frustrations served not to wound me but to remind me that I will never outgrow my need for a Savior? And what if I stopped counting only what was not, and started considering what was?
When I let go of my picture of ‘what should be’ and evaluated my life through the eyes of the One who is Love itself, what I found was not loss but abundance. Because of Him, I can hold in balance the pain of dreams unfulfilled and the gift of riches now and best things, sure and certain, to come. I still grieve what is lost and there are times when I have to fight to look again. I don’t know where I’m going or what lies ahead, but I know the One who directs my steps and who will bring me safely home. I’m not sure what I want or who I am, but there is One who calls me by name and invites me to follow Him. And so, I can let go.
How do you respond to hopes and dreams that are unfulfilled? What does it look like to trust God with these things?