When I was a teenager I made a list of about seven goals I wanted to achieve in my life. At the ripe age of almost 60 I have achieved most of them, but it’s beginning to look like I will never achieve a couple of them. I found the church with the truth I had searched for-that only took until I was 18 years old-but it looks like I’ll never be the accomplished pianist my grandfather was and earning a PhD just doesn’t seem worth the money and effort required any more.
I, like most people I suppose, had my life all mapped out at the age of 18 to 20. I wanted to finish my education, have a large family, live in a lovely home, be a full-time mom like Olivia on The Waltons, have an unlimited supply of money, drive a red Mustang, keep my teenage figure, and manage my perfect children, well, perfectly.
That eventually didn’t work out exactly the way I wanted.
I’ve come to realize that very few people, if any, have the life they thought they would have when they were constructing their dreams as a young person with their whole life stretched out in front of them. But I’ve also come to some conclusions through the decades that have helped me deal with the vicissitudes and disappointments of this mortal life that seems so brief in the light of eternity but so very long sometimes through the lens of broken dreams.
If you are having some trouble dealing with the fact that your life has not turned out the way you planned it would, consider these thoughts:
We construct our dreams with incomplete information. Although we have intuitions, passions, and feelings from which we form our goals and dreams, we really don’t know exactly who we-as people, personalities, and in relationships-were in the pre-mortal existence. While we know what covenants we are to make and commandments we are to keep while on earth, we have or don’t remember any clearly defined assignments as to our jobs, living places, friends, hobbies, or even spouses. Even our babies plop into our arms as surprises to be discovered. We are left to figure a lot out on our own within the parameters of the gospel truths we embrace.
We wonder what choices we are to make. Which college should we go to? Which job should we apply for? Which person should we date? Many times the choices aren’t clear. And sometimes the choice that seems to be best isn’t even the one we really want. Does any man really want to be called to be the bishop? The promotion may mean more money, but it’s also more work. Do we really want that?
But maybe the very calling, vocation, or avocation the Lord is leading us toward is the very calling, vocation, or avocation we were the most excited to come to earth to do or become. Sometimes we just don’t know.
In a fireside address “The Play and The Plan,” Pres. Boyd K. Packer spoke of mortal life as the second act of a three-act play: “In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and sub-plots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!
“As part of the eternal plan, the memory of our premortal life, Act I, is covered with a veil. Since you enter mortality at the beginning of Act II with no recollection of Act I, it is little wonder that it is difficult to understand what is going on.”
So then, aware of what our eternal destiny is through the gospel plan, but working with an incomplete knowledge of what exactly our plan is on how we get there, we might construct a plan for life that isn’t exactly what is best for us or was planned for us. Then as a consecrated person, or even halfway so, when that plan changes, we fight against the new plan and decide that life just isn’t turning out “the way it was supposed to.” Therein lies our discontent when perhaps it isn’t the plan that is the problem, but our limited understanding of what the plan really is.
I am a worm saver. After a rain, I seek out the stranded worms on the sidewalks and try to save them from the sun that will dry them out and kill them. With my superior knowledge I know they need to be in the moist earth once again, but they consistently struggle against my help, preferring instead to stay where they are, unaware their position will render them lifeless within a few hours. I empathize with them, feeling that I am often one of those stranded worms on the sidewalks, fighting against the God who knows what is best for us, trying to pick us up and placing us somewhere doing something that will eventually bring us the most happiness.
I like 1 Corinthians 13:12, which gives me hope that one day I will be in Act III and understand the whole play and my role in it: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
So if life isn’t working out the way we want it to, maybe we just don’t have a perfect understanding of what our life is supposed to be.
Another possibility in dealing with disappointment in life is that you can always have a part of your perfect life and be happy.
It has taken me a while to learn this. I’ve always wanted to be a reporter and writer. When other children were watching the old black-and-white Superman TV show back in the 60s and wanting to be Clark Kent and Superman, I wanted to be a reporter like Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, with a pencil behind my ear, notepad in my hand, and rushing to the scene of something exciting.
After 17 years at home with kids, I returned to college and earned a journalism degree. Four years later, I got a full-time job as a reporter I thought could fit into a life as a mother of seven children, some of that time as a single mother. I was wrong. Weekend, holiday, and night work just proved too hard. I had my share of rushing to homicides, accidents, tornadoes, and floods and interviewing interesting people, but the stress of being away from home proved too much.
Two years into it, I had to give up my dream and take a job I liked less but which gave me school day hours and summers off. I tried reporting again a few years later and came to the same conclusion as before. But even now going into the newspaper office hurts my heart.
But I enjoy writing columns, and I am able to work part-time as a freelance reporter, which gives me the freedom I need to visit grandchildren, plus the opportunity to still tell people’s stories like I love to do. I still wonder what’s happening when I hear sirens, though!
I interviewed a playwright not long ago from New York City who has never made it big on Broadway and finds it necessary to work as a youth director at a church fulltime but is active in community theater. Then he travels, doing workshops for unremarkable plays he has written in his spare time.
He said, “I tell people to live whatever part of their dream they can.” I saw the light and joy in his eyes as he saw a group of teenage drama students in a small city in rural Virginia act out his play, the name of which I can’t even remember now. He was living part of his dream and finding happiness doing it.
The great Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote something similar: “We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.”
If you don’t want to give up your dreams, but can’t have all of them, cling to whatever part of them you can have.
Consider also that others may look at you and think that you have the perfect life. Younger women often tell me they envy my life because my children are grown and I have a house with a pool. Well, it just isn’t so. I remind them that my oldest daughter has cerebral palsy and is mentally disabled, which is a constant source of grief to me, and that my pool is more trouble than it’s worth now that the kids are gone. (They weren’t there two weeks ago when I was pumping off thousands of gallons of green algae after we’d been gone four days!) Empty nest-hood has its own challenges. Grown kids are still a worry-usually much more expensive ones than toddlers- and I miss my grandchildren.
It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s just part of the human condition that the grass does always seem greener on the other side of the fence, but when you climb over, it’s probably full of the same crabgrass and chickweed you are fighting on your side.
Everyone has problems, challenges, and heartaches; it’s why we came to earth. I think too that when we maximize our problems and minimize other people’s problems, that in itself is a particular kind of pride that diminishes our compassion and charity and increases the pain of those we envy.
When I only had one married daughter, I visited her in married student housing at BYU. I was much more cynical and sarcastic than I am now that the years of living have beaten me down! I looked out her window at the balcony of an apartment decorated with bright potted flowers.
I said something to the effect of “Well, isn’t that sweet. The perfect BYU student wife and homemaker has the perfect balcony.”
My daughter told me that the balcony belonged to a sister recently divorced after her husband had walked out on her and she wasn’t even sure she was going to be able to stay in married student housing since she technically wasn’t married anymore.
I was quickly called to repentance by the Spirit, having judged a sister without even knowing the struggle she was going through. Recently walked out on and divorced myself, I went over to her apartment, introduced myself, complimented her on her beautiful flowers, and shared my story, encouraging her to be strong.
You just never know . . .
And just maybe your dreams might still come true. I saw a saying on Facebook that also gave me some perspective on wondering why my life hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would. It was on a Greg Olsen print and read “Trust in His timing; believe in His grace.”
My husband and I like to watch “American Idol” and I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to him as we’ve watched young stars be born and said, “See. Some people’s dreams do come true.” And they do.
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0001pt; line-height: normal; text-align: left;”>Maybe all of yours haven’t yet and maybe all of mine haven’t yet, but some of them have. Also on my teenage list was that I would have a large family. I had seven children and a noisy household for many, many years. Check that one off. I wanted a big house for all of them and the Lord opened a way for us to get that (with that stupid pool!) and for me to keep paying the mortgage through all the uncertain years after my divorce. Check that one off. I also wanted a college degree. The Lord opened a way for me to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and no college debt two months before my husband left and 10 years later to earn a master’s degree I had always wanted. Check that one off.
And maybe one day someone important will discover my novel and I will become a “rich and famous writer.” There’s still time. After all, The Help by Kathryn Stockett was rejected 60 times before being accepted for publication.
While you’re waiting for your dreams to come true, just keep saying, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) Maybe, maybe just maybe one of those paths will lead to your dream.
Also, you are in good company if your life hasn’t turned out the way you wanted it to. When I think of everyone in my family back in the generations whom I have known, I can’t think of anyone who would agree that their life has turned out the exactly the way they wanted. I asked my father when he knew he was dying at the age of 65 if he had ever gotten to the point in his life when he said, “Yes, my life is perfect now.” He said that he hadn’t and that life was never that way. Yet he achieved many wonderful things in his life and I’m sure he felt he had lived a good life.
Face it, when we think about what we would like in life, most of us would say-if we were honest-that we would like to not worry about money, have a devoted family faithful to the gospel, and friends, plus good looks (including hair) would be a good asset too. Yet Mitt Romney has all of these assets and he still wasn’t able to achieve his dream of becoming president last year! All of what the rest of us think would make up a wonderful life belongs to his family as a matter of course every day and still his life didn’t turn out the way he expected it too.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Jean Valjean’s character is Les Mis is so enduringly popular through the ages is that his life certainly didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to-several times-yet he took every opportunity to craft from every unbearable situation the best possible solution. In so doing, he blessed the lives of others and became a literary Christ figure that continues to inspire people.
Finally, we have hope. I had no idea until the last few years of my life what a powerful force in the gospel hope is. I refer you to Gerald Lund’s book Look Up My Soul: The Divine Promise of Hope. The book changed my outlook on hope forever.
Basically, we have hope through the wonderful plan of the gospel and the Atonement of Jesus Christ that everything will work out for us more gloriously than we can ever imagine. I don’t know if that means that I will be able to play the piano in the next life or earn a thousand PhDs or write a million bestsellers on some celestial bestseller list, or maybe I’ll just see that it doesn’t matter.
But I can-and you can too-hold on to the hope in these two scriptures when you’re look at your life and see nothing but a pile of shattered dreams:
Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
In conclusion (a way I tell my students never to end an essay!) sometimes you just have to adopt an attitude of gratitude and trust the Lord to even it all out in the end. I learned through a particularly distressing time of my life that a calming way to start the day was to pray by being thankful for 10 things, and I tried very hard to make them 10 new, specific things I hadn’t been thankful for the day before. Many days my list was much longer than 10. Then I say “These are the things I am worried/sad/upset/scared about and need Thy help with.” That list could get quite lengthy also. But I found at the end of many days I couldn’t even recall the worried list while the thankful list seemed to always be full.
Maybe, just maybe, my pool will make it onto my thankful list one day!!