“May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!”Psalm 20:4
Shortly after my divorce, I sat in a friend’s living room, chatting about life when the conversation got serious with one simple question:
“So what are your dreams now?”
I opened my mouth to answer, then shut it. I opened my mouth again, and no sound. My chest constricted. I fought to find air to fill my lungs. My eyes welled up with tears.
“I don’t know,” I replied, wiping away the tears that unexpectedly lined my cheeks. “No one has asked me that in a very long time.”
You see, I had dreams, but I couldn’t speak them into life without meaning death to someone else’s dreams. My dreams were mutually-exclusive to another’s dreams. So I stopped dreaming. There was no longterm goal-setting.
Looking back, it was a miserable way to live.
Fast forward to today, and I’m anxious about a simple assignment for one of my seminary classes. I’m supposed to come up with a learning contract for my time with my Clinical Practicum. This contract is essentially a list of goals that I want to accomplish in a semester’s worth of internship, and concrete ways I intend to meet these goals.
Whenever I begin to work on the assignment, once again, my chest constricts. My jaw tightens. I agonize over the words I struggle to string together. I actually noticed myself pouting this week about it.
This concept of having dreams and achieving goals was so hard for me to process — and it still is. I’ve spent a lot of time since that 4-year-old conversation in my friend’s living room pondering, discerning, and praying about it. Simply enrolling in, and being near to completion, a seminary degree program has helped immensely. God gave me a dream, showed me how to achieve it, and concretely, I’ve been working on this dream for four years now.
In my searchings, I’ve come up with three issues that make it difficult for me to dream dreams, and maybe for you, too: Mutuality, Commitment, Failure.
The first issue that stands out to me is mutuality, especially in terms of a marriage or close relationship. In this context, mutuality means that in order to dream dreams for yourself, someone else has to sign off on your dream dreaming. Together, you must mutually share a goal, and work to achieve that goal. Even if the dream is particularly centered around one partner, the other partner must help affirm the dream and actualize the dream.
In a dream-achieving scenario, this means that the dreams of one are good and empowering as dreams for both.
In my former marriage, we quickly realized that our dreams were sources of conflict and stress. Looking back, I realize that we rarely ever talked about our individual goals for the future, and how the other might play a role in realizing those goals, because when we would try, we would fight. So we stopped having those dream-dreaming sessions for the sake of dating and marital accord.
We both were talented and creative individuals — who unfortunately began to see the course of our lives playing out in very different ways. My dreams meant the death of his dreams, and vice versa. As we both leaned into our personalities, learning more about our self identities, we began to be more firmly cemented, I believe, in what we were willing to compromise, and what we were not willing to compromise. Our dreams weren’t just dreams; they were fundamentally and foundationally-held hoped-for realities.
Our relationship didn’t have the mutuality of dreaming needed to actualize either’s dreams.
To dream meant to hurt, and to sow discord, and face separation. So I stopped dreaming until I found a safer space and time in which to do so.
In setting goals now as a single person, whether it be for a seminary class or in my career, I see that there is still mutuality that plays a role. My dreams and goals may not match the goals and dreams of an entity or institution. Or at the very least those dreams must be tailored around the limitations of reality and systems already in place. There are family and friends, who, serving as spiritual advisors, can affirm the reality and call of a dream on your life.
This still places a large burden on another party for MY dream achievement.
The truth is that the only mutuality that matters is the support, affirmation, and providence that comes from faith that these dreams are in fact, God-ordained and God-sustained.
The second issue that burdens my dream dreaming is commitment. Dreams are abstract concepts that require concrete steps for achievement and actualization. To dream a dream requires no commitment, but to achieve a dream does.
Therefore a dream in the abstract is nothing more than a wisp of an idea or a pleasant projection of a future possibility. And those moments and yearnings are OK. But a dream in the concrete is tangible, serious, and demanding.
To commit to an idea or dream is to redirect resources of time and effort from fulfilling other dreams and ideas.
And commitment requires plans and action — actualization requires detail and pursuit.
Dream achieving demands work.
And work is hard.
In writing down my goals for my practicum this semester, I’ve had to use all the resources at my disposal. I’ve had to take what I’ve learned in all my classes, and take what I’ve learned thus far about my clinical institution, and take what I’ve learned about my personality strengths and defects, and take what I’ve discerned so far about my future, and spin it together in such a way that not only does a dream have a face, but it has legs and arms and a voice.
Once these goals are on paper, I’ve committed to working toward them for the next several months. I’ve given my word that these words will become my priority for a specified time in my life.
Other goals require similar commitments. Once I put this ring on my finger….Once I take these vows at my ordination….Once this child is born I will….Once I get this promotion I can….
Do I have the strength and energy and courage it takes to achieve my dreams? In fact, do I have the strength of conviction and commitment to continue in my dreams without outside affirmation found in mutuality?
The truth is that my level of commitment is directly dependent on the fuel I receive from a God who has first given me the dream to dream in the first place.
The third leg that hinders the dream dreaming process for me is the fear of failure.
We all fail.
And I hate it.
A basketball player at Murray State once told reporters that he hated losing more than he loved winning.
What a fascinating way to look at goal setting!
I equate failure with disappointing others, something I’ve had an irrational struggle with since first being able to name the issue as a teenager. In my human quest in seeking affirmation, I settle for receiving affirmation from flawed human beings rather than my perfect Creator God.
To translate further: In the past, I’ve settled for easy goals and dreams in order to be sure I achieve those goals and dreams. That way nobody gets let down.
Something I’m learning through this wild wilderness of seminary and time of self discovery is that God is among the victories AND the disappointments.
I’ve got to become more comfortable with the possibility and the reality of failure.
Brené Brown calls this process “Rising Strong” in her book of the same name. She describes three factors in this practice: the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution.
We all want the revolution. That’s the dream achieving part of the redirection. But no one likes the reckoning (the failure) or the rumble (that uncomfortable fallout that comes with failing).
If I set goals, and create concrete steps to put me on track to achieving my dreams, what happens when I fail?
When it just straight up doesn’t work out the way I want it to?
That fear often keeps me from dreaming. Why start it if I can’t finish it?
Or, that fear keeps me firmly cemented in the abstract. It’s just a dream, after all.
The truth is that God’s definition of success isn’t always my definition of success — and that God’s glory is greater than any of my accomplishments or defeats.
I’ll go back to my goal-setting assignment with a little more understanding. Perhaps a measure of grace as I break down what I hope to accomplish in my class. God, in God’s goodness, does promise to grant us our heart’s desires, after all.
But if I tell you what my dreams are, might you not support me?
But if I tell you what my dreams are, might I have to work hard to achieve them?
But if I tell you what my dreams are, suppose I fail and disappoint both you and me?
Dreaming is risky. But God is showing me it’s worth the cost, and rising strong isn’t just a possibility, it’s a requirement.
The dream is becoming reality soon. And new dreams will be dreamed.