When God’s Will and Your Childhood Dreams Collide
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.
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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