Living With Broken Dreams

Taking my iPod for a walk the other morning after dropping the kids off at school, this great old song came on:

For one so young at the time, it was such a mature song, and I began to think about the disappointments that crush our dreams:

  • You dreamed of a long and happy retirement, but your spouse was struck down by a terminal cancer
  • You thought your work was going to change the world, but instead you clung on for retirement
  • Your children’s choices in adulthood broke your heart
  • You longed for children, but none came along
  • You expected to marry, but either the right person never came along, or they did and they were a disappointment, or they left you for someone else
  • You wanted to be a church leader, but the church didn’t share your conviction
  • Your heart ached for reconciliation with your family after those dark early years, but it never came and the parent who so let you down died before it could be resolved

Parents, teachers and church leaders all encourage children, teenagers and young converts to dream big dreams. “You can change the world!” Years later, many of those former young people are sat among the shards of shattered hopes. We could live differently.

We could sing the cynical words of ‘Always look on the  bright side of life’, – you know, ‘Life’s a pice of sh*t when you look at it’ – as the best an atheist, nihilist world can offer.

But I can’t accept that. Wouldn’t it be better to live with that Christian balance of Cross and Resurrection? The disciples thought their dreams had been destroyed at Calvary. ‘We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel,’ said one on the Emmaus Road. The discovery of an empty tomb and witnessing the One who blessed and broke bread changed everything.

A sermon I preached about three years ago and which you can find here on this blog was built on some personal experience of walking through such dashed dreams and darkened hopes. It was based on the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s great chapter about the Resurrection. His conclusion is not to sit tight and look forward to heaven, but to keep on striving, because ‘in the Lord your labour is not in vain.’ The God who will make all things new – even new heavens and a new earth – will make something good out of broken dreams.

Perhaps we can therefore encourage young people to dream differently. Dream on; dream about God’s kingdom purposes, which cannot be thwarted, even if he takes us on a detour to get there.


  1. I think one thing my journey through life has taught me: that our dreams often need a minor tweak or major change. And it’s sometimes near impossible to do either. I’ve met people whom I admire profoundly for how they’ve coped with what has befallen them. There have certainly been times when I’ve thought “No one could possibly have suffered more than I have.” And I can actually see how indulgent those thoughts can be.

    btw, Kevin Hart’s poem “The Last Day” is a great addition to reading 1 Cor 15!


      1. Thanks Dave.
        “Kevin Hart, in this poem, has managed to say some very profound things very simply – and in a language far more persuasive than the nit-pickings of official theology. He insists on full value from his ‘poetic licence’ and takes us to places that only poetry can reach.”
        Geoff Page, poet and author.

        The Last Day

        When the last day comes
        A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
        And see the hard furrows of earth
        Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
        Run back into his spine.

        It will be morning
        For the first time, and the long night
        Will be seen for what it is,
        A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
        On the last day

        Our stories will be rewritten
        Each from the end,
        And each will end the same;
        You will hear the fields and rivers clap
        And under the trees

        Old bones
        will cover themselves with flesh;
        Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
        From wounds already healed,
        Women will clasp their sons as men

        And men will look
        Into their palms and find them empty;
        There will be time
        For us to say the right things at last,
        To look into our enemy’s face

        And see ourselves,
        Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
        The mirrors return our faces,
        And everything is stripped from us,
        Even our names.


        1. Pam, that is just beautiful and stunning – probably my favourite of the various poems you’ve shared here.

          Just one question: why do you think he envisages ‘even our names’ being stripped from us? That line jarred at the end for me, and I can’t help feeling I didn’t understand it.


          1. It’s a great poem I agree Dave.

            My understanding of the mirrors reference is that on the last day we will see ourselves as we ‘really’ are and not just the personality we’ve created for ourselves. I think we can also put a lot of store in our ‘name’. That personality and our ‘name’ will be stripped from us.
            (Thanks to Geoff Page for help with that interpretation).


          2. There is a reference in Revelation to a white stone, given to the believer, with a name on it, known only to him. I have been told that it was the practice at Roman games, to give the winner of an event a white stone with the name of the event inscribed on it (for example, 100 metres.)


  2. Enjoyed your post. As a broken people limping to the throne of mercy often we are not invited through our religious communities to express our hurts. Christians are subjected to finding refuge in places other than the healing place sit aside by God. So, many of the feel good sermons push us away and experiments occur as we lose our way. As pastors address issues of hurt and pain then should not be regulated to addiction centers, Stephen Ministry , and private therapist in overwhelming numbers if we are preaching hope that sustain and has sustained in ages past. Of course other resources are always good and should be available.


    1. Hi Naomi,

      Welcome here and thank you for your comment. I fear that too many churches engage in a collusion of dishonesty where people have to pretend they are OK when they aren’t. Goodness knows, the Psalms give us enough examples of people who were safe enough to bring their deepest pain and anger to God. I believe it’s only when that is done that healing can begin.


  3. This is a beautiful and encouraging post. I write a lot in my own blog ( about dreams & dreaming; I encourage people to “dream big dreams” and I say “always believe in yourself despite all evidence to the contrary”. And yet sometimes the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. LIke the commenter above, I find the Psalms very helpful; they are so real, and so often express what I’m feeling; I only have to substitute my own circumstances for the “enemies” the Psalmist rails against! I write with a poem on my desk, which, though it is by no means great poetry, lifts my heart whenever I read it – some of it contains these words: “Life is queer with its twists and turns,/as every one of us sometimes learns/And many a failure turns about/When he might have won had he stuck it out…” It has a Rudyard Kipling ring to it,and is summarised by the title “Don’t Give Up”.
    SC Skillman, Author, Mystical Circles (romantic suspense)


  4. Two thoughts.

    I’ll be sixty this year. I don’t know anybody to whom I could talk about my broken dreams.

    Secondly, there is a parable of the talents, which has a different ending for the man with one talent, who still had it when his lord returned, in Matthew and Luke. In one gospel, he was damned. In another, saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. An intentional ambiguity on the whole counsel of scripture.

    But the parable only mentions servants with ten and five talents, who doubled their master’s money, and a servant with one talent, who returned it intact. What of those who look back, and realise that they had twenty talents, and invested them all, in good faith, in enterprises that went bankrupt, every one of them? What hope is there for us?


    1. John,

      That’s dreadfully sad, I’m so sorry. Is there not even a pastor or a spiritual friend to whom you could talk?

      I have been through seasons of my own life (some quite prolonged) where the gifts I have offered and tried to invest have been met with apathy, misunderstanding or downright rejection, because they didn’t fit the preconceived moulds certain people had cast for me. (Please excuse me not being too specific in public about them.) It was in the middle of one such long, painful season that nearly did unmentionable things to me that I read Tom Wright’s book ‘Surprised By Hope’, in which he repeatedly returns to 1 Corinthians 15:58, which has become a life-saving verse for me. I have huge questions about why God seemed to lead me into that particular situation and I still don’t have all the answers. However, I believe that in some way he will use those years for good and make something of the failures and disasters for his kingdom.


    2. The end of the parable had a happy ending; likewise, whatever we invest in if it is for His glory we too shall enter into Heaven and not worry anymore. You will never have to count your losses when dealing with the Savior.


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