This morning I woke up reeling from a bad dream. It was one of those dreams that drops me right back into my past—full of people, places, and feelings from which I thought I had moved on. I felt dizzy and unsettled in the foggy moments between sleep and wake while the images of my dream remained fresh. As the morning continued, my mind wandered to what could have been, followed quickly by feelings of ungratefulness and dissatisfaction.
In the wake of all that is going on in the world today—the hunger, poverty, war, displacement—for me to even have a mild thought of “I wish my life was different” is indeed ungrateful. I repented and willed myself to take back my thoughts, shake off my bad dream, and feel different. Most days I don’t dwell on my past. However, I’m not entirely proud of some parts of my history, and failures, disappointments, and a multitude of mistakes can haunt me if I’m not careful. When the haunting comes through dreams or daydreams, I find that sometimes, after I’ve repented, I must unpack my thoughts, feelings, and old wounds before I can truly feel different.
From the start it felt silly and a little embarrassing, but for most of my life I dreamed of being a storyteller. More specifically, I wanted to be an actor. I felt certain I wasn’t smart enough to be a writer; it had taken me much longer to learn to read than the other kids at school, but I thought I might be able to act.
My dream didn’t waver until I entered adolescence and found myself ashamed of what I considered a selfish ambition. No longer seeing my dream as just silly and embarrassing, I carried it with a bit of shame. I prayed that God would take that dream away and make me desire to become a physician who worked with Doctors Without Borders. At fourteen, that seemed to me to be the most selfless lifestyle, other than becoming a nun, which wasn’t really an option considering I wasn’t Catholic. However, my prayer of becoming a doctor was about as realistic as when my four-year-old self asked Jesus to leave a baby brother in a basket, à la Moses, on our doorstep. A doctor was not who I was created to be.
As the years passed, the original dream didn’t fade with my prayers, but rather grew in intensity. I began to follow my dream, operating under the belief that if God creates you to do something, you do it, or you try to do it, with or without guarantee of worldly success. In truth, I could never completely shake the shame and embarrassment I felt about this particular dream, but it felt disobedient not to try.
Some seasons were wonderful and creatively fulfilling. I was lucky to have agents, coaches, and managers. I was blessed with people who consistently believed in my work. There was some success. I was grateful, but I felt that the more people believed in my abilities, the more people I might disappoint if I couldn’t achieve what was expected. They might have believed, but my own conflicted feelings kept me rather unbelieving.
I also saw brilliant people, people far more talented and connected than I was, quit every day. I watched others struggle and sacrifice having families, their youth, their health, and any sort of stability. I watched those who became successful become unsatisfied and frustrated in the midst of their dreams coming true. I saw addiction and substance abuse plague my friends as they tried to cope with career disappointments. I saw both my Christian and not actor friends handle this career in nearly the exact same way. I couldn’t help but think, Is this worth it—for any of us? The more I watched, the more I saw, the more frightened I became.
So what happened? Well, pursuing this career was hard, disappointing, and I failed. Some would argue that I didn’t fail, that I chose to move on. But in reality, what other people say doesn’t always matter. It felt like failure. I had pushed that boulder up the mountain one too many times, and I simply couldn’t do it again. All the encouragement and connections in the world couldn’t make me take one more step. At the end, when the connections and dream were available to me more than ever, and all I needed to do was take a step, risk, and believe—I simply couldn’t.
Today my life is so different from what I expected. It is fulfilling, simple, and beautiful in a myriad of ways. Most days, when I stop and really think, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to God for what He has done in my life simply by allowing me the chance to change direction and move on. Somewhere along the line I started to believe that He (and people) wouldn’t love me if I quit. I believed my value was wrapped up in this one area, and I had no value if I didn’t achieve. Failure was my biggest fear. Yet, as it turns out, a multitude of mercies can be found in failure. That long journey toward my dream required me to lean into God with an intensity and dependency that is rarely recognized when our goals are easily attained. It taught me that my hands, my work, and my will can do only so much. It taught me that God values me on the simple basis that He created me—a daughter whom He passionately loves despite my failures and triumphs.
So what are you left with when you fail at that one dream you’ve been striving for so long? I believe you’re left with Jesus, our Comforter, our Savior, our Refuge. You’re left with He who desires us to seek Him above all other things, people, and aspirations, not because He needs us to, but because it’s good for us. We need it. He has the power to change our failures into journeys with endings that lead to Him, not by rewriting our past or by transforming all our mistakes into correct decisions, but by reminding us that our story is not over and that His work is not done. Perhaps God is far more concerned with what we learn about Him, and about ourselves, on the journey to achievement than the actual achievement itself.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us we must always be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” So I try to turn my eyes, my heart, my mistakes, and my failures daily to Him. And on the particularly bad mornings, like this one, I remember the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”
I will not lose heart, for through Him my life, my dreams, and my failures are being renewed.