I think I may be ready to give up on a dream. This is a dream that I have intensely wanted for a long time. I have worked very hard to achieve it and have nearly exhausted all of my “next steps.” So in an effort to reckon with reality, I’m giving up. I think it may be time.
When I told my husband this the other day, he said, “No – don’t give up! We’ll pray about it!” (Because sometimes when you want something long enough, you stop really praying about it when you stop believing it’s going to happen.) I understand why he responded the way he did. He knows how much I want this. He knows how hard I’ve worked. And he probably has an idea of what comes next. When you give up on a dream you enter into a process of loss.
About a year ago one of the women in our community group from church (we call ourselves “The Tribe”) announced that she was giving up on her dream of becoming a school administrator. After working as an interim assistant principal and loving it, Laurie had worked very hard to get into a district program to become an administrator. She had even gone back to school and earned a doctorate degree in educational leadership. She did everything she could to prepare herself for what she felt passionately about doing, and she felt confident about her qualifications.
She didn’t make it into the program. When she told us she was giving up on her dream, several of us protested, “No! You’ve worked too hard on this!” But she had already begun the unavoidable grieving process involved in the death of a dream. She talked to us that night about surrendering and finding peace.
children to never give up on their dreams and that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. And yet I’m wondering if that will set them up well for real life? My child may want to be a contestant on The Voice, but it may not happen. My daughter may have her heart set on a particular college, but it may not pan out. I have friends who have had to give up careers because of illness and homes because of financial hardship. Maybe the more important thing we need to teach our children (and learn for ourselves) is how to hold up our dreams with open hands and live in a posture of surrender. This dream of mine may be something I’ve wanted more than anything I’ve ever wanted, but if I am truly surrendering it to God, there is a flexibility instead of a rigidity. There is an attitude, from the very beginning, that says, “I know what I want. But more than that, I trust that God knows what is best for me, and that may look slightly or vastly different than my dream.”
Our family enjoys watching American Ninja Warrior, and I love hearing the athletes’ stories just as much as I love watching them navigate the incredibly challenging obstacle courses. Some of these competitors have given up jobs to pursue their dream of becoming the next American Ninja Warrior. Some of them admit that they are so desperate to win, they don’t know what they’ll do if they don’t make it. It’s painful to see these competitors fall off the salmon ladder or lose their grip off of the swinging spikes, because you get a sense of just how devastated they feel when they hit the water below. And often they are asked the same questions afterward. “Will you be back? Will we see you here next year?” In other words, are you ready to give up on your dream?
I think the truly victorious ones are those who, in the face of dashed dreams, find a way to live out their passion doing what is possible and within reach in the here and now. In their reckoning with reality, they find the courage to let go of a specific dream while holding on to a bigger vision.
The producer of American Ninja Warrior calls Brent Steffensen and Kacy Catanzaro “the royal couple of ‘Ninja Warrior’”. They both have broken records on the show and their mutual passion for ANW led them into a dating relationship. Along with competing several times on ANW, they are currently working to open a training facility in San Antonio, TX. As Kacy stated, “As long as “American Ninja Warrior” is not holding us back from other things we want to accomplish, we want to keep doing it.” And despite this season’s disappointment (of not making it through the ANW course), Steffensen said he has his dream job. He may come back and compete again, and if he does he will either fail again or break a record, but either way he is living a bigger dream. He’s living a dream that taps into the core of who he is.
Back to my friend Laurie. She is as passionate as ever about teaching and educating children, and about leading other educators. And she says this past year has been surprisingly peace-filled. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, how much I was striving to make things happen, and how I pressured myself to make my dream come true. I was carrying my dream like the way you carry a grudge. It became heavy and I just kept lugging it around with me. When your dream becomes a burden, it’s time to lay it down.”
Laurie teaches fifth grade. She is a department head and has exceptional leadership skills. She chose not to reapply for the district program, and she has taught me a lot about what it looks like to surrender a dream that has become a burden.
My dream is to publish a book. Not just a book, but a specific story. I have a polished proposal that I’ve spent hours writing and revising. I have attended writers’ conferences and have had my work professionally critiqued. I have followed up on nearly every lead, and the feedback has been consistent. “Your writing is good. You tell your story in a compelling way. Your platform is not big enough. We wish you great success and hope you find a home for your manuscript.”
We hope you find a home for your manuscript. My manuscript is homeless. But I am not hopeless. I may decide it’s time to let this dream go. I may try a little bit longer. I may decide to take a different route to get my book published. But either way, I am living a bigger dream. Either way, I can still tell my story. Along with writing, I speak regularly at local women’s groups on topics I am passionate about, and I love it. I am a communicator, and I am living a life consistent with who I am – with who God made me to be.
As a parent, I will always be my kids’ biggest cheerleader, and I will encourage them to go boldly in the direction of their dreams. But I also want to teach them – and model for them – how to hold their dreams loosely, with open hands and a surrendered heart. I want to teach them how to know when it’s time to give up on a dream that has become a burden, and how to figure out what is underneath that dream that taps into the core of who they are.
From the very beginning of our journey, we can entrust our greatest dreams to the God who knows what is best – to the God who knows us best.