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In between the silence of the falling tears came soft sniffles. Finally, she whispered: “Why would He take this away from me? It wasn’t wrong or evil. I just don’t understand.” Such is the sentiment of a believer who has watched a precious dream crushed under the weight of divine providence.

Sadly, shattered dreams are the norm for those living in a fallen world. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways (Isa. 55:8–9). So we often have dreams that go unfulfilled, dreams about how our lives will go, and yet God, in His wisdom, chooses a different path for us. Of course, not all shattered dreams collapse with the same gravity. Being rejected by one’s dream college is not the same as facing infertility or the sudden loss of a loved one. From minor miseries to breathtaking heartbreak, what are we to do, think, and believe in times like these?

First, what do we do? We grieve. Mary and Martha grieved when they lost their brother, and Christ did not rebuke them. In fact, Christ joined in their grief (John 11:33–37). Christ Himself grieved when He recognized that the city that He deeply desired to save would instead reject Him and face judgment (Luke 19:41–44). Paul even instructs believers that when they encounter those grieving, they are not to rebuke them but rather show compassion (Rom. 12:15). Thus, it appears that grief is normal when we watch our hopes and dreams being destroyed. Yet Paul also reminds us that we are not to grieve as those without hope (1 Thess. 4:13). How do we do this when the pain is so profound? We engage in that two-way communication whereby we offer up our hurts and fears to the Lord through prayer, and He in return offers His comfort through His Word and His people. So often in grief, people isolate themselves, believing that if they can rush to acceptance, they can short-circuit the hurt and pain. Then, and only then, can they safely invite the Lord and His people into their pain. Instead, both faith and people are alienated when they are needed most. And the pain from a shattered dream becomes a wound festering with loneliness, bitterness, and resentment. So when a dream dies, we must first grieve well.

God is trustworthy to bring everything, even terribly painful things, together in incredible ways for our good and His glory.

Second, what do we think? As we grieve our shattered dreams, we must begin to ask several difficult questions of ourselves. Paul tells us that we are to take our thoughts captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), and while this is particularly difficult in the middle of deep hurt and sadness, it is no less necessary. Therefore, we must also take this moment to check for any idols that have cropped up in our lives. Here is one useful question to help identify the idolatry of our hearts: “Was this dream God oriented?” In other words, did it help me to, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism helpfully states, “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”? If we are honest, while many of our most precious dreams may be able to glorify God, they are often primarily focused on glorifying us. And while they may help us enjoy Him, they often primarily help us enjoy this life—not the one to come.

Another helpful question to ask ourselves is this: “Does the loss of this dream cause me to question the goodness of God?” If the answer is yes, we know that a good thing has become a god thing. In other words, a good and righteous desire has turned idolatrous because it has replaced God on the throne of our hearts. The loss of a dream cannot determine God’s goodness, for Scripture itself reminds us “that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). All our hearts make idols of good things. John Calvin famously described the heart as “a perpetual factory of idols.” Yet the Lord may be using this time of pain to remind us of His timeless truth: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). So when dreams fail, we should check for disordered desires in our hearts.

Finally, what must we believe in times like these? That the Lord is utterly trustworthy. He is trustworthy to receive—and even cherish—our cries of anguish (Ps. 56:8). He is trustworthy to keep us to Himself even at the moments when we are at our weakest: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:3). He is trustworthy to breathe new life into us: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:31). He is trustworthy to hear us and give us what is needed: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). He is trustworthy to bring everything, even terribly painful things, together in incredible ways for our good and His glory: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16–17). So when dreams fail, we must push ourselves to trust God, no matter what our pain whispers in our ears.

What do we do when our hopes and dreams lie broken all around us? We must grieve, sanctify our thoughts, and trust in the Lord all the more so that the pain of shattered dreams might blossom, someday, into the sure hope of the gospel.

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From the November 2023 Issue
Nov 2023 Issue