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 To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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