Dr. David Henderson

Greater Expectations

How to respond to the death of a dream
May 27, 2013
David Henderson
Broken Dreams

This past week I had the privilege of interviewing Sandra Glahn, adjunct professor, Christian Education and Pastoral Ministries, at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), her alma mater, where she serves as editor in chief of Kindred Spirit magazine. Her books include The Coffee Cup Bible Study series as well as When Empty Arms Become a Heavy Burden: Encouragement for Couples Facing Infertility .

Sandra joined me to discuss her experience with infertility and adoption and how she found hope through the constant cycles of anticipation and loss.

As I thought about our discussion, I realized that this cycle of great expectations followed by bitter despair can have devastating effects on our stamina for living if we are not careful to guard against it. Here are some helpful tools that I gleaned from my discussion with Sandra.

  1. Be certain about uncertainty. Confusion leads to searching. At the end of our search, we expect answers. But what if we simply have more questions? Our finiteness measured against God’s infiniteness is sobering to behold. We stand at the base of the Empire State Building, straining our necks to see its pinnacle and foolishly assuming that if we just keep jumping, some day we will touch the top. One of the more interesting comments Sandra made during our interview was that the mystery of God brought her more comfort than any contrived explanations for her infertility. Certainly, it is helpful to speculate on the workings of God behind the scenes, but accepting the mysteries of life allowed her to find reprieve from her mental anguish, calm her racing thoughts, and lessen her need for answers. It gave her the strength to pursue other dreams while still mourning the loss of those unrealized.
  2. Check your desires, don’t chuck them. When a dream goes unmet, many people expect us to move on. Sandra had well meaning people say, “Well, there’s always adoption.” But Sandra was quick to point out that the pursuit of a new dream cannot be done solely to assuage the pain of a previous loss. New dreams bring new challenges and if our previous unmet desires have not been checked, if we do not assess our motivations and learn from our failures, we are bound to experience the same pain again and again. Think of the countless children who have been adopted as a means of filling the void left by unconceived biological children. With what pressure and unattainable expectations will they begin their lives? How many broken romances lead to hasty unions between hurting people ill-equipped to love sacrificially? Checking our desires means asking, “Am I still willing to face pain in my pursuit of them? Could there be other ways to meet them healthily? What new challenges must I accept if I do take a different path? Remember, you cannot just will yourself to change your desires, but you can hone them. Don’t rush into new territory until you are clear about where you are headed and how much you’ve come through. Sandra did eventually adopt, but she did so with clear motives, recognizing that her decision could not be viewed as the “second best option” but as fresh start, a new path, fraught with its own unique challenges and triumphs. When the time was right, she felt it as a calling and she tackled it with zeal.
  3. Question your reality. A friend, recalling his initial excitement over a job promotion, quipped, “And then reality kicked in!” What did he mean? Well the challenges he experienced had a way of quelling his enthusiasm. What he hoped would be all glory and no guts quickly reversed its self. Broken dreams have a way of challenging our reality: the way we view the world. But be careful! Is life really doom and gloom? Is failure our only destiny? Should we just accept the meaninglessness and injustice that our experience tells us reigns? No. The writer of the book of Romans, Paul, said that he considered (or reckoned) that the suffering of our present experience is not even worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. Not worth comparing? You mean to say that it is a waste of time? Yes. Paul’s questioning of reality told him that glory was coming and when it came, we would not even take a moment to look back on our suffering and compare the two. We will be so consumed with the amazing experience of clarity, love, redemption, transformation, and exaltation that comparisons would be pointless. Let this be your reality when other dreams fade.

Question: What enables you to endure disappointments in your life?