We often talk about grieving in relation to death. But a form of grieving can also occur when certain life dreams become just that—a dream. Here are a few stories with changed names which illustrate this truth. Mary is a widow after being married for over fifty years. Sally’s husband hasn’t been faithful to her for many years and now may have a form of dementia. Andrea suffered a stroke a few years ago. She used to be a successful businesswoman. For each person, there was one word in our conversation that started a flood of tears—grief.
Mary’s husband died several months before I met her, but she had not allowed herself to grieve until our first meeting. Sally had grown exhausted of her husband’s erratic behavior and lies about his adultery. She finally found some rest when she accepted that change may not happen but joy is still from the Lord. Andrea can’t drive anymore and her husband didn’t “sign up for this.”
For each of these women, despair occurred as they realized their unchanging circumstances. They felt stuck. It didn’t help that their faith was mocked. It’s almost like the stark contrast of unbelievers who live pridefully and believers who suffer righteously in Psalm 73. At least with unhealthy work environments or churches we can leave if it seems wise, but marriage is a covenant, so it’s more complex and consequential. The issue of divorce inevitably becomes a discussion when a spouse is exploring options or has given up on the marriage. We shouldn’t make that decision for others but should evaluate the situation with biblical wisdom and do our best to provide loving care.
Bringing up aspects of grieving with someone who lost a loved one is an obvious topic but less so when death is not in the picture. For these women, it took some time to come to terms with their reality. Up to that point, they were sustained partly by the prospect of their situation improving. After all, couples’ counseling started. Promises were made. In some cases, like with Sally and Andrea, grieving is a turning point in moving forward, especially spiritually. Bargaining with God or expecting happier conditions were no longer the aim of their prayers. As a result, they found a sense of peace by remembering what they had forgotten, such as God’s care for them, His knowledge of all things, and His purpose for all things.
Indeed, we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Broken dreams can serve as needed reminders that heaven is our true home and our earthly life is temporary. We’re sojourners, created by God to live for Him and serve His kingdom, but our mourning can cloud our thinking. Placing our hope in Christ won’t remove every trace of our sadness, but God uses it as a reminder of this broken world and need for His divine grace. God also uses our sorrow to mature us, directing our thoughts to what matters in the end (Eccl. 7:2-3). How often have we heard others say that God used a trial to save their soul or cause spiritual growth? That’s also my testimony.
Our care for grieving individuals will vary, but only God can truly strengthen them. Pray that Psalm 119:25-32 would become their prayers, especially “Strengthen me according to your word!” (v. 28). As we cling to God’s Word, our thoughts will shift towards Him, refreshing our soul. Even though tomorrow might still seem dark, we can start seeing a ray of light that didn’t exist before.
Today, you might not be grieving over your marriage but you might be experiencing a form of grief in your family. It could be related to a parent, sibling, or child. Family crises have a way of revealing our helplessness and need for God’s grace in an acute manner. God sovereignly placed us in our family; may he fulfill his purposes in and through us. So, we wait with steadfastness, committing our desires to God and praying for God’s will to be done.
Questions for Reflection
How have you helped your counselees grieve their unfulfilled dreams? How have your own broken dreams pointed you towards Christ and His kingdom?