What happens when your dreams are shattered?

Called to Suffer

Recently I read an excellent book by Pete Wilson (lead pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN) entitled…

Plan B

Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?

In it, Wilson writes the following:

“Do you remember the day you discovered your life wasn’t going to turn out quite the way you thought?

It happens to everyone sooner or later.

All of us have had dreams, wishes, goals, and expectations that, for a variety of reasons, have not come to fruition.

Plans fizzle. Expectations come to nothing. Trusted people let us down – or we let ourselves down. Dreams shatter or slip away.

Has it happened to you?

Plan A comes to an abrupt stop, and you’re not sure if there even is a Plan B.”

What do you do when life doesn’t turn out the way you originally thought it would?

How do you respond when your dreams are shattered? When the pain (whether physical or emotional) becomes so overwhelming that you just want to die?

So often, followers of Christ tend to (erroneously) think that “good, godly Christians” don’t ever have really bad things happen to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Did you catch that? Afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, struck down.

Or how about what Jesus said in John 16:33?

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Pete Wilson goes on to mention several real life ‘shattered dreams’…

“Maybe the realization hits you in the form of illness or even deatha terrifying diagnosis, a sudden descent into the world of hospital beds and IVs, the sudden loss of a close friend or family member. Maybe it involves a disillusioning church experience or a financial reversal.

“Or maybe your shattered dream is completely different. Maybe you just knew that you would be married by now and have a family, but it’s just not happening. Now every wedding that you attend is a reminder that life isn’t turning out the way you expected.

“Or maybe your heartache has come from not being able to get pregnant. You secretly feel the judgment of your Christian friends who have all bore their own children, and they seem to think that “maybe you did something wrong and God is punishing you for it.” The pain of even the slightest inkling that someone may think that, makes you both sad and mad…but mainly sad – and hurt as your eyes fill with tears, wondering in your most private thoughts, “Lord, why?”

“Or maybe your shattered dream has been a daughter who came and told you that she is gay…and rejects your faith. You worked so hard at rearing her right, taking her to church, teaching her God’s Word…and yet you now find yourself brokenhearted, wondering, “Lord, where did I go wrong? I prayed for her every day of her life that she would grow up to love and honor you. Why have you not heard my prayers?”

“Or maybe you thought that God was calling you into full time ministry, but no doors have opened up. And nobody seems to be asking. You prayed, you prepared…and then nothing.”

Sometimes our dreams that get shattered are outward and obvious, but other times they are inward and not so obvious. Sometimes no one, outside  of you, even knows that your dream has been shattered. No one…except God. He knows. He cares. He is involved. He is good…and good all the time. He has sovereignly allowed this into your life for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

“Nobody ever grew up thinking, “I’m going to get cancer at forty-one. Nobody ever grew up thinking, I’m going to get fired at fifty-seven. Nobody ever planned to be divorced and alone at forty-five or depressed at age thirty-five. Nobody thought their child would end up in prison at age twenty.

“You never imagined you wouldn’t physically be able to have children. You never imagined you’d get stuck in a dead-end job. You never imagined the word that might best describe your marriage would be mediocre.

“But it happened, and you’re frustrated. Or hurt. Or furious. Or all of the above.

“When life isn’t turning out the way we had hoped, we almost always default to feeling as if God has abandoned us.”

“The reality is that many of your questions will simply not have answers. But through it all, God himself will never change. This is why our faith must rest on God’s unchanging character and not necessarily His activity.

“What if we viewed our hardships and challenges as opportunities to be the men or women God has created us to be? What would happen if we stopped grabbing for what we (wrongfully) think we are owed and instead try and receive each moment with gratitude and grace?

“That choice…our attitude and response to what has happened… is ours.  What’s done is done. You can’t change it. But you can choose a graceful and grateful response from this day forward.

Here is a principle found throughout the pages of the Bible: throughout life you will face one situation after another that will be completely beyond what you can handle. Why? As the Apostle Paul said so clearly in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

We can subtly begin to think that we are actually in control of our lives. Shattered dreams remind us how much of life is completely outside of our control. Do you remember the first time you realized that you were not in total control of your life?

Wilson then goes on to write…

“The greatest of all illusions is the illusion of control.”

“Your dreams may not be happening, and things aren’t turning out the way you expected, but that doesn’t mean your life is spinning out of control. It just means that you are not in control. It’s in those moments you can learn to trust the only One who has ever had control in the first place . . . God.”

“Can you believe that God is in control of all the details of your life right now, even when your life isn’t?”

“We are called to be faithful to God even when it seems he hasn’t been faithful to us.”

“We’re called to love him even when we feel abandoned. We’re called to look for him even in the midst of the darkness. We’re called to worship him even through our tears.”

As the song by Matt Redman says so profoundly (note especially the underlined phrases)…

Blessed be Your Name

In the land that is plentiful

Where Your streams of abundance flow

Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name

When I’m found in the desert place

Though I walk through the wilderness

Blessed Be Your name


Every blessing You pour out

I’ll turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in, Lord

Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name

When the sun’s shining down on me

When the world’s ‘all as it should be’

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering

Though there’s pain in the offering

Blessed be Your name

And then he ends the song with these words…

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say

Lord, blessed be Your name

Or as the righteous and godly Job said after he was devastated by calamity after calamity that was allowed by the Lord…

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15)

And then one of my all time favorite passages in Scripture…

“But He knows the way I take;

When He has tried me,

I shall come forth as gold.

My foot has held fast to His path

I have kept His way and not turned aside

I have not departed from the command of His lips

I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”

(Job 23:10-12 NASB)

Wilson goes on to write later on in the book…

“I’m so frustrated with the version of Christianity where we actually think our theology can fit onto a bumper sticker, a T-shirt, or a bracelet. Reality just isn’t that simple.”

“You need to know the cross is not just the starting line. It’s the very centerpiece of your story with God. It’s the place where the pain of ‘you will have tribulation’ meets the triumph of ‘I have overcome the world.‘”

As C. S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts to us in our pain: It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

“You may not have had a choice on whether you could have kids or whether your loved one passed away or whether you got fired or your spouse had an affair. But you do get to choose how you respond. And in that choice lies an amazing amount of hope.”

I have noticed throughout my years in ministry that people tend to respond one of two ways when dreams are shattered:

They either allow their hurts and heartaches to make them bitter and cynical…more abrasive and blunt in their relationships with other people (because they falsely believe that is how God is treating them).

Or they can allow the hurts and heartaches to soften them, humble them, and deepen their faith and love in our good, loving and sovereign God…choosing to believe each day that God sees the big picture and has allowed this as part of His grand plan that will bring them good and Him glory (Romans 8:28).

Do you know what the most frequently stated promise in Scripture is? God promises us over and over, “I am with you.”

As you face your “shattered dream,” you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that as a follower of Jesus Christ, he promises that He will “always be with you” (Matthew 28:20) and “will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).

Shattered DreamsBack in 2001, I read Larry Crabb’s excellent book entitled Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy. It’s message is much the same as Wilson’s Plan B book. In it, he writes…

Our shattered dreams are never random. They are always a piece in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story. Pain is a tragedy. But it’s never only a tragedy. For the Christian, it’s always a necessary mile on the long journey to joy. The suffering caused by shattered dreams must not be thought of as something to relieve if we can or endure if we must.  It’s an opportunity to be embraced, a chance to discover our desire for the highest blessing God wants to give us, an encounter with Himself. This book is an invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good even when the bottom falls out of your life.

“Live long enough and dreams important to you will shatter. Some will remain shattered. God will not glue together the pieces of every Humpty Dumpty who takes a great fall in your life.

“The divorce will go through, the cancer will claim a loved one’s life, the Alzheimer’s will not be arrested (let alone reversed) by the latest drug.  The broken friendship will not be restored despite your best efforts to reconcile.  Your marriage will not be satisfying no matter how many counselors you consult or seminars you attend.  Your singleness will be an intolerable burden.  The budding ministry will never materialize.  The lost income will not be replaced by money pouring out of heaven’s windows.

“When life doesn’t turn out the way we thought, how do we respond? What happens in us when life throws an unexpected curve our way, when the second shoe drops soon after the first? Most often, a more visible self-concern surfaces as the strongest passion we feel. It takes many forms – often self-pity, sometimes a hardened determination to survive, perhaps a relentless demand that someone see our pain and care. More often it’s a decision to hide, to let no one see our real struggles.”

Where is God when it hurtsOne of the first books that I read as a young follower of Christ during my mid-teen years was Philip Yancey’s book, Where is God When it Hurts?. It helped me to begin my walk with Christ with a deep commitment to and appreciation for the sovereignty of God in my life, as well as an understanding that to be a Christian doesn’t excuse us from suffering, heartache and disappointment.

Scripture makes it very clear that even the most godly will face hurt and heartache, pain and problems, disappointment and discouragement in this life. Think with me to the original Apostles that laid the foundation for the New Testament church. Most of them suffered greatly because of their faith and many were martyred because they followed Jesus.

As Randy Alcorn has said…

“We like to serve others from the power position. We’d rather be healthy, wealthy, and wise as we reach out to the sick, poor, and ignorant. But people see and hear the gospel best when it comes through those who have known difficulty. Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Suffering creates a sphere of influence for Christ that we couldn’t otherwise have.”

And last, as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.”