Shattered dreams. We all have them. Something good we long and reach for. It might be health or pregnancy that eludes you, the death of someone precious, or a miserable marriage. It could be financial stress or the fact that you have no stable church environment in which to raise your family. Whatever it is, your dream has come crashing down around you. It’s lying in fragments at your feet. No matter which way you try to move you hear the crunch of the pieces. You are devastated, and you feel almost paralyzed by pain. What are you to do?
One of my shattered dreams is a complete family picture. No amount of prayer or scheduling or tenacity will put Abigail back on our family picture. She was snatched away at the age of two years and nine months in a farm accident. Gone. Over. Done. But we loved her. We wanted her. We still do. Yet in that instant, though unsolicited, grief and loss became our dark and demanding comrades.
It’s over six years now that Abigail left us. We still don’t have all the answers, but we’ve become OK with that. Our emotions and faith are rebounding. No, we’ll never be the same, but some of that brokenness is good. And if you, sister, find yourself in the midst of brokenness, I want to offer you hope and some choices.
First, how will you respond to the pain? Are you going to avoid it, or face it? Sometimes we deny the pain. We dodge it. We fight it. We try to smother it with hard work. We bargain with God. We indulge our passions. We are angry. We pretend it doesn’t hurt. Anything to keep from feeling it. But our efforts to avoid the pain only wear us out more, and the road to healing becomes longer and harder. Whatever our response, in the end, we must turn and face it – head on. We must admit it for what it is – feel it. And in confronting the death of something precious, we begin the path to life.
This point is illustrated in the physical world. We cannot keep pace with the sun, so when the sun sets and darkness overtakes us, the nearest sunrise is actually back through the darkness. Likewise with our shattered dreams – the quickest way to wholeness is by choosing to face our sorrow, embrace it, yield to it. And in doing so, we take the first step toward being transformed by it.
As Jerry Sitser says in his book A Grace Disguised, “The decision to face the darkness, even if it led to overwhelming pain, showed me that the experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It is not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.”
It is true that we will never be the same. But we choose to become bitter or better. We choose to let it master us or to master it with God’s grace. We choose to be mangled or molded, to become the victim or the victor. If we bow to our sorrow and find God’s strength made perfect in our weakness, we can become known not by our loss, but by the sweetness of Jesus that comes from a surrendered life. The choice not to allow our shattered dreams to define us as a person does not take away our loss or promise that we will come out the other side unscathed; but it does put us in line for grace to live in our pain, to grow, and to become better because of our loss.
We often can do nothing about our circumstances. We can’t undo the loss or lay hold of our dreams by exertion or prowess. Does that mean life cannot be good? Herein lies another choice. You can hold fiercely to the shreds of your dream, or you can change your focus and grasp another dream. You can have a good life. Maybe not the kind of good you imagined, but good nonetheless. For instance, since your own children aren’t appearing, could you lavish love on soul-ravaged foster children and find blessing there? Or if you wished to travel with your husband, but he was snatched away, could you plan a widows’ outing and find fellowship while you see the sights? Your expectations can still be high, even exciting, if you change your focus. You will need to lay down the original dream, but could you adjust it or take up another dream?
At first it may seem that life will be limited to small goodness or bits of joy, but as you change your focus and allow God to transform you through your loss, you will find your heart enlarging, your horizons expanding, and your ability to feel goodness burgeoning. You will be able to say with David, “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.”
Perhaps an embellishment of Sister’s backyard analogy would illustrate this thought. The life you long for, the dream you hold, or maybe it was the life and dream you had, is like a large, beautiful shade tree. It was the central focus of your backyard – bird feeders hung there and a swing for the children. Picnics were held beneath its leafy boughs. It shaded the house from the scorching afternoon sun. And then a storm took it down. There’s nothing left but an ugly stump. You can focus on the stump and lament your losses (and they are real); or you can choose to create a new landscape around the stump. Yes, the stump remains as a reminder of what was, but around it you can plant perennials, and put in a fountain or bird bath. You can hang wind chimes, or plant a butterfly garden. You could make a path that leads to a bench. A cascading basket of flowers would look good atop the stump. There’s so much beauty that can arise right around that stump, including the stump. If you choose. Our Father promises, “Behold, I will do a new thing; I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19
Take courage, broken ones. Choose to face your losses squarely and let God make you into a new but beautiful witness of His power to redeem shattered dreams.
Bio: Hello. I’m Amy Hershberger, privileged to be married to Daniel. We live on a farm nestled in the hills back a half-mile lane. Of our nine children ages 2-18, eight live with us and one lives with Jesus. Homeschooling, dairy farming, and involvement with our church brotherhood leave us well-occupied and fulfilled. One thing that makes me sigh with pleasure is a summer evening gator ride back the field lanes with all the children piled on. Togetherness is the key- whether it be discussions, singing, or ball games.