Normally, Christians are pretty good about addressing loss. We’re there for those who lose children, spouses, parents, friends, even pets. We can also comfort those who’ve lost material things, like a home or money.
Sadly, I rarely see Christians talk about mourning a dream.
And this is a disservice because losing a dream can be just as painful as losing a loved one. A piece of your soul dies, and is forever lost. Are we to leave these poor people with crippled souls? To shrug off their pains and say, “Oh, well, just trust in God.”
I say no. I recently suffered the loss of a dream myself, and learned a bit from it. So I thought I’d share it here for other Christians who’ve had something dear taken from them. It could be a career that flopped, a plan that went awry, or some hope that perished.
So I’d like to briefly share my story and what I learned from it, as well as what the Bible says for those whose dreams have died. I hope it will be of some comfort to you.
Last spring, I thought I’d finally found my dream career. All my life I’ve struggled in the area of career, limping from job to job, but at last I found the answer in Financial Coaching. I love working with money, I believe a lot of people need financial help, and I found a training program that wasn’t too expensive. So I paid the money and trained and learned a lot, then set out to help the world. I dreamed about finding clients, leaving my job, and making four to five times as much money as I do now.
But no one came. After several months and a lot of spent money, I had no clients. Darkness assaulted me from all sides. I hated the world, hated myself, hated God. I cried out, asking why I couldn’t have just one minute of professional success. Was I to go my whole life as a failure, doing pointless work an untrained monkey could do? I tried finding other Coaches, prayer, social media tricks, changing my game a thousand times, but nothing worked.
On Memorial Day, I took a trip up to a mountain town a little over an hour from me. I love it there, and love the drive. I adore the view of mountains. And I even got to climb a few. You know, little ones that don’t require any equipment.
Okay, maybe it was a big hill, but it was steep, darn it!
There’s much I could say about the healing God gave me on that trip, but I’ll focus on this: God led me to Joshua 1:8-9, in which God told Joshua to meditate on the scriptures “day and night.” Only then would he have success, and to fear not, for the Lord was with him. God was telling me to study the scriptures and stay close to Him, then I would be successful.
Simple, right? But no. Though I obeyed, my career still slipped from me. I kept reading, kept praying, and finally, about a week or two ago, during a time of prayer, God gave me a vision.
In the vision, I walked through a dense forest. The ground was a carpet of scarlet leaves. There was a mist on the edge of the wood, the sun was soft, and all was quiet. In my arms, I carried something dead. In some memories, it’s a baby, in other’s it’s a shapeless nothing, just an empty, dead thing. I knelt by a cool blue river and put the dead thing in a basket. Then I pushed the basket along the water, and watched it sail away. Then I sat under the nearest tree and mourned. I got up and wandered the woods, through rain and cold, meandering aimlessly, and finally I left.
God was telling me the dream was dead, and that any attempts to resurrect it would be futile and painful. I had to accept that this plan of mine hadn’t worked and wouldn’t work. So after a bit of grieving, I finally closed my business and walked away from it.
Now how does this story help you? I learned a few things from it that I think apply to all Christians who suffer the loss of a dream.
These aren’t in any particular order, and they often overlap, but I’ll beak them up for simplicity’s sake.
Modern Christians are alarmingly bad at grieving.
Perhaps it’s human nature—we like being happy, not sad. Perhaps it’s our culture. The world says, “Suck it up, Buttercup.” The Enlightenment says, “Be logical, not emotional,” while our hyper-modern sensationalism says, “Don’t be sad, be angry at those who made you sad!” Popular Christianity says, “Think happy thoughts!” None of them deal with grief.
Which is strange because the Christian God is a God of grief. When Jesus saw Lazarus was dead, he wept (John 11:35), even thought he was about to resurrect him! Jesus mourned in the Garden when he was about to die (Matt 26:38). Even Job’s friends, whom he later called “miserable comforters,” (Job 16:2) first did a good thing when they “sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) Seven days they sat with him.
When’s the last time you sat with yourself for seven minutes?
We are so mean to our souls. We tell ourselves to stop crying when the good Lord made us to cry when we’re hurting. There’s a time to laugh, and a time to cry, says Ecclesiastes 3:4. When trouble comes, we must learn to grieve it. Sometimes, this means crying. We must take the time to weep, or to mope, or just lie around for a while, letting ourselves feel the sadness and process it. Sometimes, this means shouting, taking our anger to God, and knowing that God can take even the nastiest things we shout at him, because he’d rather take that sin on himself than let it poison us.
Grieving is kindness for your soul. Yes, there is time to get up and move on, but don’t skip the grieving process. It’ll probably come more than once, so don’t expect yourself to cry once and be done. The death of the dream is like the death of a loved one. Just because you bury the body doesn’t mean you stop noticing the absence. In fact, you notice it more.
Let yourself grieve.
2. CLING TO GOD
When bad things happen, what’s the first thing we want? Answers, right? It was that way for me, at least. “God, why can’t you let me have success? What am I doing wrong? Why are you holding out on me?” The problem is that when we’re hurting, it becomes hard to hear an answer, even a wise one. That’s because we’re stuck in emotional mode, not rational. When you drop a cinderblock on your foot, you don’t care that you weren’t holding it right, it’s that darn cinderblock’s fault!
When things have gone wrong in my life, God has constantly frustrated me by saying, “Abide in me.” (John 15:5). I want answers and a solution. But God is far more interested in a relationship. Why? Because relationships are the only thing that help us in good times and bad ones.
We have to repair and restore the relationship with God before we can do anything else. That’s another reason grieving is so helpful. Whether angry or sad or confused, you can take such things to God.
If you’ve lost your dream, it is crucial—crucial, I tell you—to keep up your relationship with Christ. Bible reading, prayer, church, fellowship, disciplines, anything and everything you do, you must keep doing, usually with more intensity. I said that I took a trip to the mountains. There’s more to this that I’ll explain in a minute, but it was also a moment of solitude, to get away from the world and focus on God. You may want to fast, or read a specific book of the Bible, or call friends over to pray for you. There are innumerable ways to keep your relationship with God, but my friends, this is perhaps the most important step.
Don’t be fixated on answers and solutions. God has them, to be sure! But you will never hear them if you distance yourself from God. And you’ll never heal either. So find ways to get closer to God. A new devotional, a new prayer app, some spiritual exercise you forgot long ago, books, or something else. Find the ways where you and God meet the most.
When the pain and anger begins to fade, and as you clutch God close to you, eventually he will speak. But my dear friend, it may not be what you want to hear.
The first time God spoke to me, in that mountain visit, he said to study scripture and abide in Him. I thought this meant I would have a successful career if I did these things first. But as I read and prayed, God slowly began to open my heart to the idea that Financial Coaching may not be God’s plan for me after all. God started walking me down different paths, and pointing me towards a totally different career. What’s more, God revealed that my heart was not right with Coaching. I wanted to help people, but I wanted the career success more.
God said to the Israelites, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, not to harm you…” (Jer 29:11). But he also said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts…” (Isa 55:8). God’s plans and our plans often get mixed up. Sometimes, we get the wrong idea, and need to change course. Sometimes, we do exactly what God says, but don’t get the result we expect. Other times, we do everything right, but misjudged God’s timing. God told Eve, “Don’t eat the fruit,” but Eve said, “We must not eat or touch it.” (Gen 3). We have a nasty habit of putting words in God’s mouth.
God will absolutely speak to you, friend. If you ask, he will answer, but it must be in the right spirit. You may ask “Why,” and God will tell you “What.” You may ask, “Should I do A, B, or C,” and God will say, “D.” But the voice of God is healing, wise, and true.
When you keep God close, when you saturate yourself in the Bible, when you feel his healing touch cleanse your grief, when you see that he is with you no matter where you go, and when you understand that God cares about your heart, you begin to trust him again. That’s when you’re ready to listen. Not before. And when you’re ready to listen, that’s when things begin to change.
As God began to reveal the wrongs in my heart, I wondered if I could correct them, then get my career off the ground. I tried spinning it this way and that, but nothing worked. That’s why God finally gave me the vision of the dead thing in the woods. God was telling me as clearly as he could, “No. Your dream is not sick, it is dead.” When something is dead, our feeble attempts to revive it are frustrating at best and harmful at worst. Yes, God may resurrect your dreams like he did Lazarus. But Jesus didn’t resurrect every dead person he knew. And God chooses to let some things die and stay dead.
Again, this ties into the other items, the grieving and clutching and listening. God knows what he’s doing, and when you walk with him, you can trust him. If God says it’s time to let the dream go, it’s time to let the dream go. Healing a loss begins with admitting the loss. When a loved one dies, we can’t heal if we keep their body around, or preserve their room exactly was it was, as if they’ll come back one day. When you dream dies, you won’t heal if you keep chasing it. The only way to heal is to admit that it is dead. Then you can move on.
And again, grieve. I said that grieving happens more than once. When God gave me this dream of death, I sat around sighing for hours. Heck, even in the vision itself, I saw myself sitting under a tree and sighing again and again. When I say, “Admit your loss,” I’m not saying “Get over it,” not in that sense. I’m saying, “Let it go. Let yourself begin to heal.”
God doesn’t take things from you because he’s cruel. He takes them because he’s kind. If he’s telling you something is over, then he is being kind to you, rather than letting you carry on fruitlessly. And he always gives you his shoulder to cry on.
Grief is part of healing, but there’s more to it than that. It’s hard to talk about healing because healing looks different for every person. God gives each of us different personalities and different minds and different modes of healing. However, I can say this: do some care for your soul, and healing will come.
What does that mean? Well, there’s the obvious: read your Bible and find uplifting verses. Listen to uplifting sermons. Spending time with people you love. But these are the “obvious” means of Christian healing. What we often overlook are the “less obvious” means of healing that are no less Christian.
Let me ask you this: what delights your soul? Not just your tongue or your body, but your soul?
That’s why I went to the mountains that day to speak to God. The sight of mountains and valleys makes my heart rejoice. I adore them. I also spent a little time next to a river, hearing it laugh as it ran by because that sound soothes me. And on the way there and back, I listened to music that I adore. I remember listening to one song in particular five or six times in a row. It wasn’t a Christian song, just one that had the right instruments, notes, and progressions to tickle my artistic fancies.
Strange, you say? What’s the got to do with Godly healing? Everything! This world may be screwed up, but there are still a thousand evidences of God’s beauty. Nature, art, exercise, music, laughter, he gives us a thousand things that make our souls soar.
What are yours? Jazz music? A good cup of tea? Dancing? Running? Painting? Driving? Hot showers? Stand up comedy? Disney movies? That one friend? Long walks in specific places? Seeing certain pictures? Taking pictures yourself? Playing the guitar you’re not very good at? Bowling? Sushi? Fiction books? Tabletop games? Quiet caves? Noisy concerts? Only you can answer this question—well, you and God. Yes, it’s easy to confuse indulgence with healing, but try to answer the question anyway: what makes your soul come alive?
Your soul has been wounded. Care for it. Find things that heal and comfort it, and before you know it, you’ll be laughing. Even in your grief, you’ll find the strength to laugh.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Like I said, these don’t necessarily happen in a certain order. And they often overlap. Staying close to God heals you. Grieving heals you. Listening and admitting go hand in hand. And so on.
You can’t expect the pain of losing a dream to go away quickly, any more than the pain of losing a loved one. Again, this was a part of your heart, and it’s dead. That hurts. So let yourself go through the process of grieving, clinging to God, listening, admitting, and healing, in whatever form he gives it to you.
Only then can you truly move on. God has begun to show me a new dream now. And he’s revived my love of writing, which I’d suppressed for the sake of the Coaching dream. And this practice of staying close to God has given me insight and wisdom into my wife’s dreams that I would not have had otherwise.
God has dreams for you, too. And they’re greater than anything we dream up ourselves. It’s easy for me to say that when God closes a door, he opens a window, but only if you let yourself go through the loss and healing process will you start to feel the breeze.