when dreaming hurts

imageA thick math textbook lay heavy in my lap, the problems on the page the least of my concern at the time. In a rare moment of quiet in a household of seven homeschooled kids, I, the mathematically challenged one, sat on the couch in the living room completely puzzled over the thought that relentlessly kept returning to my mind.


The thought came to my mind so abruptly that I was startled at its intrusion at first, alarmed even. Math and science weren’t my friends. I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. “No, medicine isn’t going to work. There’s no way I’d be able to pull that off”, the unsolved problems scattered around me seemed to validate my unspoken words.

I was no where near qualified to pursue pre-med, which was exactly what I felt God was shaping my desires to want. But that want scared me because it seemed so foolish, so far-fetched, so feeble. And my heart rested in fullproof, attainable, and reasonable pursuits, not ones that had a 17.2% chance of working out, at best. At least those are the kind of odds us pessimists come up with.

And yet, very unlike myself at the time, I ignored the fear and enrolled in pre-med, ignored the look on my college advisor’s face when he nervously eyed my ACT scores and course load, ignored the fact that I didn’t know how to use a microscope, and ignored the impulse to run into the registrar’s office to change my major every time I passed by the building. Something in me pressed in to that dream and would not let me turn back.

The target was firmly set, and by my junior year, concepts were falling in to place, I was mastering the material, and was fully confident I was going to solve the world’s medical problems, at least in Africa, where I assumed I would take my medical training. This dream of mine had become my identity, the thing for which I lived and staked my worth in.

When dreams become identity, they become the life and death of us, don’t they? We pin our future satisfaction on their fulfillment and pine away our present joy in hopes of achieving. They are the sand houses are built on, the reflections mirrored in water, the bouquet a bride carries, shifting, fragile, fading, but oh so beautiful.

But, and not for lack of trying or ability, my dream of medicine wasn’t going to be realized. Much to my surprise at the time, and for many reasons I won’t explain here, I wasn’t meant to reach my goal.

The night I sat across from my parents, my future husband at my side, and explained how I was abandoning my dream to pursue another, to pursue marriage, was the night I came to know how tightly connected I was to my dream of becoming a doctor. And I was silently hurt, angry even. Why would God put me on this course if he didn’t intend for me to finish it? Why would he hold out two very wonderful gifts and make me choose between them? Why couldn’t I have both? The selfishness of my questions never even occurred to me at the time. I just wanted it all.

I was happy beyond words to move forward in marriage with Daniel, but my heart ached from the surgical removal of my idol-dream, the one that had taken center stage in an unhealthy way. And though the idol had been ripped out, I allowed it’s roots to secretly remain, feeding them with thoughts of the future and hopes of success when the time came. Over the next couple of years those roots grew some pretty ugly weeds of discontent and resentment that choked tightly around my marriage. My fault was not in that I dared to remain hopeful, but that I determined to in spite of clear signs I should let go.

Somewhere along the way, I began prioritizing studies above people, accomplishments above relationships, and success above calling. I had become so obsessed with the goal that it became more important than the purpose it was meant to fulfill. I had taken a good means of sharing God’s love and made it more important that showing God’s care.

In time all these things came to light, but not without the Word of God, a patient husband, and years of learning to let go. While traveling with Daniel one day, I slowly, audibly, painfully uttered the words I knew had to be said and should have been said long ago. “I’m letting go of my dream of medicine.” My husband was driving, and I fell silent, blubbering into my sleeve as the incision from the final surgery dug deep and the wound hung wide open. The dream felt so irreplaceable, so dead.

But as I’ve experienced over and over again, God doesn’t ask you to give something up without simultaneously giving you more of himself. That’s what my heart was craving all along, more Jesus, more God-fueled joy. That’s what he did for Mary, the mother of Jesus, right? I’m sure she had dreams of a beautiful, widely celebrated wedding to her betrothed Joseph, and I’m fairly confident that getting pregnant with the son of God beforehand wasn’t part of the happily ever after story she had always imagined. In fact, I’m sure the adjustment to her plans cost her the wedding of her dreams because of the cultural disapproval she most certainly experienced as a result of her pre-marital pregnancy. But instead of being devastated at this change of events, we see Mary rejoicing, worshipping. You see, she understood something I didn’t. She understood that the gift of Jesus was far greater than any daydream.

And because God is a good Father and loves to bless the socks off his kids, he often gives the gift of a new dream. Several months later I was sobbing into my husband’s sleeve as he told me his sister was giving me her DSLR camera, my dream of photography not even yet fully recognized. But this time they were tears of gratitude, not pain.

Dreams. They can be the life and death of us, can’t they? Their gain is the thrill of our lives and their loss is often the blow that buries us. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s taken me a long time to realize it, to understand it, but I’m beginning to see that no movement towards a good goal is meaningless, regardless of whether we get to see the achievement of it. Dreams lead us in all kinds of directions, and the heart can be so set on the destination that the lessons along the way are brushed by and detours are seen as threats. Don’t feel defeated by detours. The detour may very well be the fulfillment of your dream in a way you could have never imagined. Embrace the fact that you don’t have control over the route and travel happy, knowing there is good to be had for those that put their trust in the Designer, the good gift Giver.

Last week I gently laid a large white box on my kitchen table. “FRAGILE” was written across the top, and after carefully pulling back the cardboard flaps, I could see the mounds of bubble wrap encasing the contents. “It couldn’t be”, I thought after reaching in to inspect the carefully wrapped block. “Why would they be so generous? Why give that to me? Why me?” As I peeled back the layers, the identity of the gift became unmistakable, and I was overwhelmed. A Nikon camera and lens, the brand I had been wanting to switch to and become familiar with. Someone had sent me their camera out of sheer generosity and love. Again tears. Again the overwhelming sense of gratitude that I would be given the gift of dreaming, of being pushed towards the thing my heart felt fulfilled in doing. This dream however, is just a means of experiencing the goodness and beauty of God. I have no idea where my journey of learning photography will ultimately take me, but I hope to recognize any detours or revisions to the route along the way as a means of God’s grace and goodness, a way of sharing with me more of himself. Because no dream is greater than the one of seeing Him with clearer eyes, the Author of my revisionary life.

{image via my Pinterest}


  1. Chelsea says:

    So much wisdom here. Truly beautiful, Susanna.

  2. Del Dee Hindman says:

    This is your best to date. You are realizing that the best writers are the ones that have hurt, trusted and lived life. Finding our true identity and fulfillment in Christ alone is the beginning of a lifelong adventure. You can truly trust Him with your heart! He designed and created you and knows you better than you know yourself. You are loved sister and I’m glad you are part of my family.

  3. Teresa says:

    Congratulations Susana. I’m so happy for you! I love the line “God doesn’t ask you to give something up without simultaneously giving you more of himself.” Most people say that God gives you something else and they use the “open window vs. closed door” line and I don’t agree with that 100%. I do however, agree with you that He gives you more of Himself! Thanks for that reminder my friend.

    • Susanna says:

      That’s something that’s been a long time in learning for me, that it’s HIM that he wants us to have, not necessarily something else, though he often will bless us in that way too. So glad it encouraged you!

  4. Kasey says:

    I haven’t been able to read your blog in a while Susanna, but I’m sure glad I did tonight. Thank you for this reminder. When we place our lives in His hands, God’s plan is always so much more incredible than the one we could ever dream for ourselves.

  5. […] When Dreaming Hurts. We’ve all had stuff like this happen, but I think something I failed to ever do was mourn or even give further thought to the passing of a dream. Beautifully written. […]

  6. Lauren says:

    “didn’t know how to use a microscope…” 😉 thanks, girl. so much. for this post. i am crying as a write this. love you.

  7. What a beautiful gift to be given. It’s amazing how our dreams shift and change, and usually it really does work out but man being in the middle is so rough.

    • Susanna says:

      You’re right. There’s so much ache. But there’s so much treasure to found in the middle too, if we care to look up from the mess of broken dreams and find it, isn’t there?

  8. […] / Susanna shares about when dreaming hurts. We are all encouraged to have dreams and goals, but what happens when those plans change. […]

  9. Esther says:

    What a messy, beautiful story of redemption. It feels so similar to my own, although I don’t know if God is asking me to give up my dream of medicine or if he is lighting the flame within in order to reignite the passion. I’ve dabbled in photography as well, even getting paid for it on occasion but I’m not sure where God is taking me with that, either. I have found that in this season of waiting, I am learning so much of what I could not have learned had my life followed a clear and predictable trajectory. Hard lessons, but the ones worth knowing. I’m excited to follow along and see where your photography takes you.

    • Susanna says:

      Thank you for sharing that! I love hearing how God is working his perfect plan in the lives of others. Glad to encourage you along the way!

  10. Ruthanne says:

    Hi. You don’t know me, but I was a freshman when you and Daniel were seniors in the science building. That freshman year, I took Essentials and Micro (remember vibrio 🙂 with Dr. Gray and desired above all else to go into medicine, yet I knew that was not God’s will. And so, I remember sitting in Dr. Gray’s office telling him that I knew I must break the alabaster box of my desire for medicine before Him. Dr. Gray encouraged me to stay in science, but I knew I must obey God’s leading.
    Since you seniors were my “role models,” I checked Facebook occasionally to see where you all ended up. I remember taking encouragement in the fact that you too gave up your medical dreams and embraced God’s plan for your life as wife and mother.
    I praise God so much that I came across your story today and rejoice to hear more fully how He was and is working. Praise Him! And thank you for letting Him use you in my life–and many more lives–even though you’ve never met me.

    • Susanna says:

      Wow! Thank you for sharing your experience with me! I really appreciate people sharing their stories with me, especially ones that I can so relate to. I have a feeling Dr. Gray has had many a similar talks like that in his office because I too showed up at his door with a lot of the same questions 😉 So grateful for his ministry.

  11. […] // When Dreaming Hurts. This was written with the goal of encouraging anyone who has ever experienced the death of a dream. Although the thoughts in this blog post weren’t published until recently, it’s because of the experiences I wrote about in this post that I began blogging in the first place, 3 years earlier. I’m grateful it resonated with so many readers. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *