But disappointments are part of life. If you had asked me at 18 where I would be and what I would be doing now, the dream I would have told you would have been a story that sometimes seems at great odds with the life I am actually living.
Some days that difference is hard to look at without it making me feel like a total failure. When I find myself focusing on that difference, I start wishing I could get a do-over at my life, and maybe get it right this time. You know, make more faith-filled choices and fewer fear-driven choices. Hang on to my dreams a bit more resolutely. Protect my heart better. That kind of thing.
I am betting that I am not the only one that feels like that. In fact, I know I’m not. I have talked to enough of you to know that many of you know what I am talking about. Life often takes us where we had no intention of going, for various reasons.
The danger then is that we give up and get bitter when life gets sidetracked. It is easy to blame others or to blame ourselves, and to get stuck on our excuses in life at that point. If, however, we can take our focus off of the disappointments, we may actually find some successes.
If our dreams are big enough to matter, if they are in fact, God inspired, we can be sure that there will be times when we go through a refining process. Sometimes that refining process is about us and who we are becoming. God desires our maturity and will discipline those He loves. It is intended to grow our character.
It is important that we banish bitterness from our hearts and focus on the love God the Father has for us. If, however, we get stuck in the bitterness and the blame game of life, the lesson He is trying to teach us may fall flat. But God is surprisingly patient. He’ll give you a re-do at the lesson. Yeah, I know, that one has made me groan a few times too. It is much nicer getting it the first time through.
Sometimes the refining process is about refining the dream. To be fair, the reason the dream sometimes needs refining is because we have a human tendency to make these dreams all about us. Well, maybe you never do that, but I certainly do it. When that dream becomes all about us, it normally also becomes so small and powerless that faith takes a hike.
We were created to be agents of God’s kingdom here on earth. Our dreams are meant to be a part of seeing God’s will done here on earth as it is in heaven. So when they become all about us, then we can bet that God will send our dreams back to the furnace to be purified and refined. They are to be much bigger than us.
When our dreams shrink to little-me size, we try to accomplish those dreams by our own effort. Our self-dependant efforts cannot make a kingdom impact though, so when that happens, God will interrupt our efforts and teach us to depend on Him.
One lesson I have needed to learn, and quite honestly, am still learning, is to hold my dreams in an open hand, outstretched to God. My natural tendency is to take that dream, clutch it in my hand and get busy making that dream come true. Of my own strength. But God given dreams take God given power to accomplish.
I am learning that I need to sacrifice even my God given dreams on His altar, and allow Him to give them back to me again. Just like Abraham had to do with his son Isaac whom God had given him to begin with. In fact, Isaac was the promised beginning of Abraham’s dream of being a nation.
We may twist the dreams He gives us into self-serving little dreams that have little resemblance to His intended dreams. But if we trust Him and allow Him to refine us and our dreams, and if we keep trusting Him and loving Him, He will make all things work out together for good. He can even redeem the mess-ups where we directly violated what He asked us to do and use those mess-ups for His glory.
It is for the times we walk through the refiner’s fire that He assures us: “I know the plans I have for you, to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” (see Jeremiah 29:11) So if life isn’t what you expected it to be right now, keep believing in Him. Keep trusting that God knows what He has in store for you, and knowing that it is good.
Don’t ever forget that God is your Heavenly Father, and He loves you as His child. When we forget the Father-heart of God, the intimate love He loves us with, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing our problems as being just about us too. That doesn’t help faith either.
In fact, when I am wishing for a do-over at life, I am missing how great and how loving God is. When I focus on what I have learned about how big God is, and how crazy much He loves me, then I am surprisingly okay with where life has brought me.
I can see that it is often through my failures that I learned the lessons that have mattered most. It is when I made the choice that was driven by fear, that I learned how gracious and patient God is. And as I learn that God is bigger than my failures, that He is so big that He can even redeem those failures for good, then I can embrace where my life has taken me, and in faith walk on from there.
As I focus on the character of God instead of on me, I see that God is big enough to still use my story, my life, and my dreams for His purpose. My history of failure, becomes His Story of grace. And I can see life wasn’t about me getting it right. Life was about me getting to know God. Well, guess what, my life has slowly been teaching me that.
So why do I wish for a do-over at life? God is big enough! His grace is great enough. So I’ll continue to focus on God, and move towards my dream on His timeline, under His authority, in His power, allowing Him to continue to refine me and my dreams.