“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”-Proverbs 19:21
A bride kneels next to her husband as they receive Holy Communion for the first time as a married couple.
A novice, covered in flowers, professes her vows.
A giggling toddler runs across the playground, her strong, happy mama close behind.
A confident, compassionate doctor saves the life of a child.
A starry-eyed mystic travels the globe, immersing herself in the best of the Faith in every corner of the world.
These are the dreams of Catholic womanhood. They are healthy and happy and holy goals for life. One or more of them, or some version of them, rests in the hearts of all of us from the time we’re old enough to scribble them in a journal or share them with a friend. They are dreams worthy to be worked toward and attained. But dreams, like all other created things, are subject to both the will of God and the distortion of original sin. No matter how pretty or holy our dreams might be, sometimes they just cannot be sustained or achieved. Chance, physical or mental illness, or even death come crashing in on the beautiful pictures we’ve created of our futures. These thwarted dreams can be small, or they can shake the very core of our identity. For example …
“The physical side effects of my fibromyalgia have recently become disabling. My plan to homeschool my children is now out of the question.”
“I always thought God was calling me to religious life. But, due to my serious bipolar disorder, I can’t find an order that will accept me.”
“I have severe PMDD. Hormonal fluctuations make it very difficult for me to get pregnant. My husband and I dreamed of a large family, and we are open to life, but we are quickly getting older, and we’ll be lucky to have even a second child.”
“My spouse was just diagnosed with early-onset dementia. I imagined us spending our old age traveling and praying together. Now I know soon the only place we’ll travel is to the doctor.”
So, what happens to a dream deferred? What should we do about the pain we feel when we lose a piece of ourselves we have long envisioned is central to our path to God? Accepting the death of these dreams in a holy manner is somewhat similar to grieving the death of a loved one. Deep down we know that we must acknowledge “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” But coming to this acknowledgement is painful, difficult and often lifelong. Here are four suggestions for grieving an important dream. Repeat as often as necessary:
- Let it out. You can’t hide from the Lord how upset, betrayed or confused you are. There is no way to extinguish your feelings, and to try simply putting them aside is unhealthy. So tell Jesus, since he already knows. Pour out your heart again and again at Mass, at Adoration, at home. Yell your prayer, if necessary, or cry your prayer. Whatever you’re feeling, just tell him.
- Pray the Rosary. Praying the Rosary for the dead is an important tradition of our faith. It is just as important, in a different way, to pray for a lost future. As you move through each decade, ask the Blessed Mother’s intercession for discernment, for strength and healing, for acceptance, for a miraculous change in your circumstances, but above all, for grace. You absolutely don’t have to pick just one outcome. As long as you pray sincerely for his will to be done and open yourself to his answer, you’re praying for the right thing.
- Attend Mass. It’s not possible to have a funeral Mass for a life goal, of course, but it is very good to formally offer your grief to the Lord. Our outward actions often help our inward dispositions, so if you find it helpful, make this a special, extra trip. Wear somber clothing, light a candle before church begins, asking the intercession of your favorite saint, and afterward, ask the priest to give you a blessing. Explain that you are seeking God’s will for your life.
- Bury it. Put your earthly hopes and dreams to rest in your own heart and soul by hiding them in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Get on our knees and give up all your idealistic pictures of life and your broken visions of the future. Give him your word that you will continue to do this again and again—dead dreams don’t stay always stay buried–and give him your promise that you will not, as J.K. Rowling famously wrote, “dwell on dreams, and forget to live.”
After you have done all these at least once, perhaps many times, ready yourself for your new mission and go forward with the only hope that will never, ever die. In Heaven, all our dreams will be waiting for us, fulfilled through Christ in a way we cannot yet understand.