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Encore Episode: When Do You Let a Dream Die?

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While I’m touring the US on my Resurrection Year speaking tour, I’m running a series of ‘encore’ episodes of the More Than This podcast which have proven particularly popular during the year. Enjoy!

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We all have dreams for our lives. But by the time we reach our 30s and 40s, most of us have a broken dream too. In Resurrection Year I’ve shared how Merryn and I brought our dream of having a family to an end. I’ve since advised people that giving up a dream can be important for healing and moving on. Now one major question remains – one I’ve been reluctant to address:

When do you let a dream die?

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A Question with No Definite Answer

Question: When do you think it’s time to let go of a dream? Tell me now

The idea of letting go of a dream goes against almost everything in our culture. Bookstores abound with books about finding a dream, pursuing a dream, fulfilling a dream! The standard Hollywood film script ends with a dream coming true. No one talks about letting go of a dream – letting one die. And yet I’ve had the question put to me in emails, Q&A sessions and personal conversations ever since Resurrection Year was released. Some dreams need to be relinquished so we can move on with our lives. But how do you know it’s time?

I wish I had a definite answer for you. I don’t. This is something you need to work through carefully with God and with deeply prayerful mentors and friends. But here are some basic pointers that may help you know when it’s time to let your dream go.

1. When God says No

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset: not all unfilled dreams need to die. Some need to be waited for. Others need to be rested. But God may have already said No to a dream that you’re clinging to. Perhaps the dream was never in line with God in the first place. Perhaps he’s spoken to you through your conscience, a lack of peace about the matter, or through a verse of Scripture or a friend about relinquishing the dream. If so, let it go. God has something else in mind for you.

2. When pursuing the dream is damaging you

If you’ve read Resurrection Year you’ll know that having God say No to our dream of a child would’ve been a mercy to Merryn and me, especially in the toughest months of our ten-year infertility journey. But God didn’t say No. Or Yes. He chose to remain silent. And that made things difficult! How then did we decide to bring our dream to an end? By realising enough was enough. We were exhausted. Merryn was emotionally spent. Our lives had been on hold for too long. We’d pursued the dream for a decade, praying all the way, and the dream was now damaging us. It was time to let it go, trusting God with the ramifications.

3. When pursuing the dream is damaging your relationships

Merryn and I met with a counsellor when we first looked into doing IVF. ‘In-vitro fertilisation can strain a relationship,’ the counsellor said. ‘You’ll have many decisions to make, like how many rounds of IVF you’ll attempt and what you’ll do if you don’t succeed. It can lead to many disagreements.’ Merryn said, ‘Sheridan and I have talked about that, and we’ve decided we won’t let IVF come between us. Our marriage is more important than having a child.’ With that the counsellor slumped with relief. ‘I’m glad to hear you say that,’ she said. ‘Only last week a woman told me in front of her husband that if she didn’t have a baby their marriage was over.’

Whether it’s a woman who wants a child at any cost, a career man who wants success at any cost, or a victim that wants justice at any cost, when your dream is destroying your relationships it needs to go (or at least be reevaluated).

4. When the dream has become an idol

Are you relying on the dream to fulfil you? To complete you? To give you ultimate meaning and purpose and security and identity? Is the majority of your time and energy spent on the dream? Is your life revolving around it? In short, has the dream become your god? Then be assured it will damage you and your relationships, and fail abysmally at meeting all the needs you want it to. Only a real God can meet those needs. Take the dream off the throne.

5. When the dream interrupts your true vocation

As I said last week, one key for discerning whether a dream is from God in the first place is to run it through the Test of Love. Does the dream serve God and others, or is it getting in the way of you serving God and others? Life is messy and there are seasons when we can serve less than at other times. But if you’ve been hampered to fulfil this broader calling on your life for a significant amount of time, it may be time to reassess the dream.

6. When God calls you to relinquish the dream for others

Jesus talked about people who relinquish marriage for the sake of his cause. St Paul said something similar. Great saints throughout history have given up dreams of comfort to serve the poor. I think of a seminary professor who gave up his globally influential position to become a full-time carer for his wife. I’ve explored this issue a little before and do so in Resurrection Year. Sometimes the God of love calls us to relinquish a dream out of love for others. He tends to bless us with something else in return.

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Question: When do you think it’s time to let go of a dream? Tell me now

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