When You Grieve the Loss of Your Dream
I’ve read that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. Maybe you’ve heard this too. How true it is, I don’t know. What I do know is that practice certainly makes progress.
I’ve witnessed this firsthand with my four daughters.
Whether it’s in their weekly vocal training, or their almost daily dance lessons, the more time and effort they exert, the better they become.
You see, they all love to perform. In fact, my thirteen-year-old recently wrote in an English essay, “Dance is my passion.” A couple of my girls even dream of one day professionally performing on a Disney or Broadway stage.
I regularly tell them, “Someone has to do it. Why not you? But you have to work hard.”
And so far their efforts are paying off. Last May, one of my daughters successfully completed an eight-month-long national tour of a Broadway musical. She performed on stage after countless stage from one side of the country to the other.
Yet, there are moments when I still wonder if I’m wrong to encourage my daughters to pursue their dreams, 10,000 hours and all.
After all, I pursued mine … and then God unexpectedly asked me to give it up.
I Dreamed a Dream
If you’d asked me at the age of six what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have answered, “A teacher!”
Once I hit my teens, my answer changed, though. The allure of instructing others wore off, replaced by a desire to work in the entertainment industry. I felt “called” to be a television producer and pursued this goal all the way through grad school.
But something happened as I worked toward a master’s degree that I didn’t anticipate.
I met and married my husband, Ted. Not long after, in the midst of writing my graduate prospectus, two faint pink lines appeared on a pregnancy test. Suddenly, my dream wasn’t so easy.
If my studies and student film set experience had taught me anything, it was this: my career aspirations – if achieved – would require long days and maybe even regular travel. I found myself questioning how I would personally balance that along with caring for my growing family. It was then that I sensed God calling me to lay down my dream. The one I’d worked hard toward for years.
As difficult as it was, I did. But, as I talk about in my book Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life Is Hard, I went on to grieve that loss for years.
3 Ways to Grieve the Loss of Your Dream
Maybe you’re currently grieving the loss of your own dream. Yet perhaps it isn’t career related, as it was for me.
Instead, maybe marriage or becoming a mother hasn’t happened for you as you’d hoped it would. It’s possible that you’re in a season of prolonged singleness when you long to be married or you’ve recently walked through a divorce. Maybe you face the heartbreaking pain of infertility. As a result you are well acquainted with the words of Proverbs 13:12 about how “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”
What are some ways you and I can grieve the loss of our individual dreams, especially when the pain and disappointment hurt so deeply? Here are three suggestions.
1. Freely Acknowledge Your Loss
When it came to the loss of my dream, I was afraid to openly grieve it. My life was full and I feared that I’d be judged for the sorrow I felt. I worried that others would correct me for mourning it. It’s possible you feel the same.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Nothing that grieves us can be called little.” While undesired singleness, divorce, infertility, and career disappointment are anything but small, there may be people who dismiss your pain and therefore make you feel like they are. Perhaps they offer you uncomforting platitudes such as “Look at how full your life is without that,” “God works everything out for good,” or “Count your blessings.” Your heart can’t bear to hear that one more time, so you keep your loss quiet. You mourn it silently.
I’m here to say, your loss is not little and it is worth mourning. Go ahead and grieve it fully and freely. This may mean journaling, confiding in a trusted friend, joining a support group, or seeking the wisdom of a counselor.
2. Grieve Your Loss with Hope
I believe that God is the Author of my life’s story. Yet it’s much easier to believe that the story He’s writing for me is good when He says “yes” to my dreams. It’s harder when He either asks me to surrender them or decides not to fulfill them in my timing and my way.
It’s in these hard chapters of life that hope can seem non-existent. I can quickly feel like my entire story is one of despair and pointlessness. It could be you’ve felt or even currently feel the same way.
However, if you and I determine to believe that God is attentive and active in our lives, we can be reminded that our stories are always penned with hope. What is this hope? It’s that even in the darkest of moments, God promises to walk through the pain and grief with us. No matter how hard life gets, we are never alone.
We can feed ourselves hope by reading God’s Word, listening to music that speaks of His goodness and faithfulness, and surrounding ourselves with others who point us to Him.
3. See the Beauty in Your Individual Story
Just because God asked me to give up a certain dream, doesn’t mean He’ll ask the same of my girls, or someone else I know. In fact, I deeply respect other women who are able to beautifully balance family and pursuing their dreams. Sometimes, though, I can find myself comparing and feeling jealous that my story isn’t like theirs. Maybe you can relate.
How can you and I see the beauty in our individual stories even when they’re not what we wanted? When the pain is sometimes too much to bear?
One way is to reach out to others around us who are experiencing similar sorrow. I have a friend who knows well the heartache of infertility. In the midst of her pain, she consistently reaches out to other women who also long for babies and says, “Me too. How can I walk through this with you?”
God’s Promise in Loss
Even though I’m sometimes tempted to worry that encouraging my girls’ to pursue their dreams will result in disappointment, I remind myself that God is the Author of their stories too. And, no matter what happens, He’ll be with them through it all.
About Braving Sorrow Together
How do you cope when life is hard? Is there a way to grieve so that seasons of loss become seasons of growth? Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard is about where to turn when life is hard. Ashleigh Slater weaves together Scripture, personal stories, and guest entries to comfort the suffering and encourage hopeful grieving. Whether your trials concern health, employment, relationships, or even death, grief can turn into growth when we lean on Christ and others. Braving Sorrow Together provides solace for hard times and advice for getting through them with grit and grace.
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books, Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard and Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage. She loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. Learn more at AshleighSlater.com.