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When God’s Will and Your Childhood Dreams Collide

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The Confessions of St. Augustine (Week 7 of 15)

No more did I long for better things, because I thought of all things, and with a sounder judgement I held that the higher things are indeed better than the lower, but that all things together are better than the higher things alone. – The Confessions of Saint Augustine (Book 7; Chapter 13)

When God's Will and Your Childhood Dreams Collide

I was in my twenties when Mr. Holland’s Opus was first released – that movie that follows the professional life of an aspiring composer, turned teacher, who never achieves the dreams of his youth.  At the time I thought it was touchy-feely as movies go, but I was pretty up in arms about the whole, leaving your mark on the world through your relationships with the people around you is so much more rewarding and impactful than anything your little “dreams” could have accomplished theme.  I was aghast at the thought of not actually achieving a life's ambition which grasps at your very soul with a grip that is so tangible, it is almost stronger than the urge to live.  Back then, my dreams were young and fresh, and the landscape before me vast and flowing with possibility.  The idea of not achieving them would have been as unthinkable as my becoming the queen of England.

Twenty years later, I’m reading a book by Bess Streeter Aldrich, a writer from Nebraska who wrote in the early twentieth century about life in the pioneer days.  A Lantern in Her Hand depicts the life story of Abbie Mackenzie.  As a little girl and even a young woman, she has her heart set on becoming a singer.  Full of talent, she is even offered the opportunity to achieve her dream; but she doesn’t fall in love with the rich doctor who would move her to New York and possibly make her dreams come true.  Instead, she falls head over heels for Will Deal, a young farmer who promises a life of love, albeit hardship, as they head West to homestead on the wild Nebraska prairie.

So even young ladies living in the 1800’s had big dreams.  It seems aspirations are driving forces that can span all time and enrich the most barren of places.  But like Mr. Holland, Abbey never achieves the dream of her youth.  Instead, she dies alone on her homestead, surrounded by the things she loves, after living a long but beautiful life full of trial and sacrifice with her husband and children.

For a while, stories like these began to strike close to home for me.  I’ve not yet achieved my own childhood dream.  And it seems the older I get, the more pressing that dream becomes.

Looking back at the all the choices of my adult life, to marry and raise a large family, to stay home rather than pursue a career, to homeschool my children, it's pretty easy to see how my decisions have not exactly facilitated my professional career.

So where does that leave me?  I suppose I could rebel.  Choose to pursue my dreams at any cost. And I'm sure some in this world would advise me thus.  After all, life is all about self-fulfillment and personal happiness, right?

On the contrary.  Tragically – even in this life – pursuing happiness at any cost has the potential to cause much pain and sadness – both for ourselves and for those we love.

Recently, I met a woman my age who chose this path.  After years of quiet suffering with a man who actively discouraged her dreams, she divorced her husband so she could pursue those dreams more freely.  According to her, he enjoyed life the way things were and saw no need for her to pursue her passion despite the fact that their children would soon be out of the house.  She felt that remaining in such an environment would have suffocated her and she chose to leave.

I can certainly identify with her pain.  Not that my husband discourages my dreams.  I know he wants only the best for me, and he doesn't have a selfish bone in his body.  But my husband is practical and my dreams are not.  At the end of the day, there are only so many hours to do all that family life requires and we only have so many years to try and get them right.

I don't want to give the impression that my life is doom and gloom.  Not at all.  On all days and in most moments I absolutely love the life I've chosen.  It's the wistful moments that get me into trouble.  When I look back toward that young ambitious girl who was determined to achieve certain goals in this life, I envy her position at the edge of that open-ended landscape where anything was possible.  When I consider the trajectory before me at this point in the game, things aren't so open-ended anymore.  Chances are, my life is at least half over.  Deadlines are looming.  And anxiety has begun to wield its ugly head – particularly over the past year or so (Perhaps I've finally come to understand the term mid-life crisis?)

In those moments when my heart begins to race, I remind myself of the above truth, asserted so eloquently by Saint Augustine.  A truth that I've read in many different forms from many different saints.  Then I calm myself with words that were prayed daily by Saint Margaret Mary.  This prayer is simple, but reassuring:

O Heart of love, I put all my trust in Thee;
For I fear all things from my own weakness,
But I hope for all things from Thy goodness.

The fact is that my plans are not necessarily God’s plans.  And to become a saint requires me to unite my will with His  – not to force my rectangular checklist of goals into the round hole of sanctity.  By Gods’ grace and at His hand, I am a wife and mother First.  I am unbelievably blessed and privileged – my husband and my children are precious gifts to be cherished.  To turn my eyes away from them and into the shadowy haze of what might have been or what could be, would result only in frustration and bitterness – which sadly, can lead to divorce, or other devastating ends.

Someday, perhaps I will accomplish that dream.  If God wills it.  And if He doesn’t, it will be because He has other plans for my life.  No doubt plans more rewarding and more amazing than any I ever could have imagined for myself.  Plans that include the surest and most direct path to heaven – a path designed for me alone.

Regardless, today I am called to use the gifts that God has given me for the good of my family first and the community second, all for the glory of God.  And I must remember that in the long run, often the greatest achievements come from the most simple and humble use of those gifts.

Finally, now that I am 44, Mr. Holland’s Opus has found its way to my heart, and the beautiful truth illustrated by this story will forever move me in a profound way.

Reading Assignment:

Book 8

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you ever had dreams you've set aside, whether temporarily or long-term?  How do you cope?

2. Are there other ways that you struggle to unite your will with God's?  If so, consider praying the prayer of St. Margaret Mary.  Or, add the Angelus or Divine Mercy Chaplet to your daily prayer.

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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  • Wow, Vicki, this strikes home with me. You know, i put my dreams away long ago, and then they became sort of irrelevant. And I’ve held off having dreams–is that weird?–maybe because I felt crushed? Or something? I’m not sure. But now you have me thinking about this reading in a whole new way. I’m slowing coming around to actually LIKING this book (it took me a while to warm up to it). Thanks for this reflection.

  • Elizabeth Siegel

    Thank you, Vicki. I have found that God does honor our heart’s desire, which may be different than our dreams. Often our heart’s desire includes being a certain kind of person, for Him, and for others. We all have, in addition to our vocation to a state in life, a “particular vocation,” which is tied to your heart’s desire. There is a wonderful book on this, called Discovering Your Personal Vocation, by Herbert Alphonso. Do you know of this concept?

    • Vicki

      I’ve not heard of that book, but I will certainly look into it! Thank you for the suggestion!

  • marybernadette

    ‘Thank you, Vicki for your beautiful insights. I hope and pray many women and (men) will come to read this, it is so encouraging. It hit a chord with me too, esp. as I have had to accept a particular ‘illness’ in my life, which prevented me from what I thought were my ‘dreams.’ However, with the Lord’s help, I am coming to understand that ‘my heart’s desire’ truly lies elsewhere in the ‘plans that the Lord has for me.’

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  • Tiffany

    Thank you Vicki. Wow, hits me as well, same age and when that dream wafts up I have to work at redirecting my heart. In my late 20s all the ducks were in line and I sensed God firmly closing the door. A few months later I was pregnant with my now 16 year old son with significant special needs. But…I dont think we would have become Catholic unless the Lord had sent him to us – yes, I don’t think i would have asked the questions I needed to ask. Elizabeth Siegel…your words are encouraging, too…thank you all.

  • Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

    There is, in my experience, a crisis of discernment in our modern culture. We tell our kids to hurry up and pick a college / career when I think we should be providing rich and varied experiences where they can learn about themselves and God’s will for them.

    The conversation about vocation starts when the kids are old enough to think about “what they want to be when they grow up”. Vocation is not a career – but like marriage, the word has been hijacked by popular culture. Vocation is the discernment of God’s will for your life – married, religious, single.

    Discernment then is followed by direction – listening to God’s voice to direct us along our lives. This for me is the direction given to us in Luke 9:23: Then [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

    The greatest day in my life is when I realized that my vocation is not my career – it is to be a disciple, husband and father (in that order). This is absolutely God’s will for me. I know this because I am at complete peace with this order. Anytime I perceive something as a loss, I realize that it is my will getting in the way.

    Ironically, when I was chasing my dreams (especially my career), I moved not only further away from our Lord, but further away from my dream. Only in the acceptance of His will for my life was I freed from the anxiety I created concerning my career goals. Not ironic is that I’m more capable in my profession because I’m focused not on myself but how I can serve others in the role given to me by Him.

    • Vicki

      Beautifully said – thanks so much for your wisdom!

    • Elizabeth

      Jeff, this is excellent. Are you a blogger? These insights should be more widely known, both for parents and for young adults. Thank you.

  • I’m still that twenty-something I suppose! I daydream about what good work I would love to do someday, what degrees I want to study etc. But in the end it is God’s will that matters most. I need to remember that! Sometimes I get too caught up in what could be instead of focusing on what God is asking of me now.

    I guess I don’t know my vocation yet. I am still discerning religious/consecrated life. By the way, may I ask for prayers please? I will be discerning with the Carmelite Secular Institute Notre Dame D’Vie founded by Father Marie-Eugene the weekend after Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Please pray for me, that I may know God’s will and be obedient to it! God Bless!

    • I will absolutely pray for you, Maria.

      • Thank you! I will pray for you too! 🙂

    • Jeanette

      Prayers for you Maria.

      • Thank you! Prayers promised too! 🙂

    • Patricia


    • LizEst

      Prayers for you, Maria. May the Lord clarify His will for you.

    • Elizabeth Siegel

      I was able to get to know Notre Dame de Vie several years ago. A beautiful charism in the Church. Hope your visit was very blessed.

      • Thank you everyone for your prayers and good wishes! My visit to Notre Dame De Vie was wonderful and truly joy-filled. I really think God may be calling me there! Prayers promised in return! 🙂

        • Dan Burke

          Maria – have you ever read the writings of the founder Fr. P. Marie-Eugene?

          • I started reading “Where the Spirit Breathes” some time ago but have yet to finish. And am reading “15 Days of Prayer” which has excerpts of his writings and reflections by Notre Dame De Vie consecrated.

  • Patricia

    Seems like the Holy Spirit is gently keeping everyone in line with a heavenly homeland goal, rather than being attached to earthy things like careers, and things to do because all these things are passing away. Perhaps It is the “attachment to” rather than the goal itself which is being purified, and something that may only be understood in hindsight. As Father Hilton too, on his bike trip with the goal for the Avila Institute, experiences a real and personal understanding that our souls are restless, until we rest in God. Only He can satisfy our souls. St. Augustine’s insights and writings still shine forth this truth in our lives, even in today’s world!

  • Allison Gingras

    In the summer of 2006, I was set to begin a career as an adjunct at my dream college. I was warned that I would receive only one call to teach – if I was unable to accept the dream for teaching there would be over. That same summer, I felt called to offer to facilitate a women’s bible study, although I had not experience. My Pastor agreed and I put out flyers and bulletin announcements. I had committed, then the call came from the college. It was the same night I was committed to at my church, though incredibly difficult, I declined the position and held the bible study (to which 20+ women a week attended). I was never called again – and that dream died. What I could have NEVER had anticipated was the plan God had that was truly more than I could have dreamed for myself. After completing the study – I felt a stir in my heart to do more (and more). I am now in full-time Catholic ministry – with a live daily radio show, giving retreats and presentations over the country, and sharing God’s amazing message of love and mercy all over social media.

    Thank you for the opportunity today through your thoughtful reflection – to remember God’s faithfulness and omnipotence — His ways are truly not my ways, they are infinity greater (side note: this time I am loving the new plan, sometimes I don’t! But this sentiment is still true even when the circumstances don’t seem greater in my human eyes)!!

  • Therese

    I will keep you in my daily prays always Maria. Just a thought: For me I couldn’t think of anyone better than Jesus to have as a spouse – Loving, loyal, caring,
    constantly giving you unconditional love, reliable, totally trust worthy, full of amazing surprises, always there- day and night, listens to all your cares with loving attention, He fills you with the most incredible love for everyone and is always there to give you as much love as your heart can hold. One of the thing I love the most is He wants a close relationship with everyone and shows this by inviting us to share our faith and His love with others. I love the way He constantly speaks to our hearts through others, whether it is something someone says or something they have written.
    I am 60 years old and I can never ever remember a time in my life, even from a very small child, that I haven’t felt His loving care and presents in my day to day life.
    What ever you choose Maria if you do it with the intention of pleasing God He will definitely show you the way. There is always something in your heart that lets you know, especially when God knows that all you want to do is please Him.
    My wish for you is that you feel Gods peace in your heart and that He lets you know what He would like you to do for Him.
    God Bless little angel,

    • Thank you so very much! Your words have been very consoling and encouraging! I will keep you in my prayers as well! God Bless!

      • Therese

        You are most welcome Maria, Good luck with your meeting. 🙂

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