Let me start this off by saying, I don’t have any plans to die soon. At least none that I know of. It’s easy to pretend like death is some far-off experience, or even live in denial of it, but it’s a reality for all of us. So while I have no control over my last days, I do have control over the regret I could experience as a result of the choices I make now.
In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware records her experience as a nurse caring for patients in the last twelve weeks of their lives. She wrote,
“The most common regret of all was unfulfilled dreams. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
Since then, various groups and individuals have used this statistic as motivation: encouraging people to chase after that dream, reach for the stars, and not be a statistic.
The Bible is full of people who died with their dreams unfulfilled. What if the problem isn’t that we didn’t fulfill our dreams, but that we have a limited view of what our hopes and dreams even are? Below are four truths about your dreams that will give you peace regarding unfulfilled dreams.
1) Maybe your dream won’t be about you.
American painter Norman Rockwell’s grandfather was an immigrant and a painter. After bringing his family to the United States, he dreamt of opening a studio for portraits. Instead, he resorted to painting still life to make ends meet and never opened a studio. Two generations later, his grandson would become one of the most famous painters in the world, illustrating everyday life for the Saturday Evening Post magazine for nearly five decades.
Could his grandpa’s unfulfilled dream have paved the way for Norman Rockwell to become one of the most famous American painters? We don’t know for sure, but we do know that our hopes and dreams influence the people around us. So if you believe that God does not waste good things like hard work, an honest dream, or worthy ambition, trust him with the timing.
An unfulfilled dream here on earth is hope in the resurrection and restoration work of Jesus in the future.
Your unfulfilled dreams could be setting up future generations’ success. You might be casting visions for others to run with, goals you’ll never see accomplished in your lifetime. In our individualistic, self-glorifying, immediate gratification society, it’s safe to acknowledge that most people don’t want to miss the reward from their work. Is the regret simply that they didn’t go for it, or that they didn’t get to reap all the rewards?
King David got a vision from God about building a grand temple, a place where God and man could be together in right relationship again. A new Garden of Eden! (Even the columns would have specific flowers, vines, and trees to remind the people of the garden.)
But David would not be the one to build it; he simply got the vision. God told him that his son Solomon would be king one day and be the one to oversee the work.
In response, David offered a prayer of praise:
“You, Lord, are God! You have promised these good things to your servant. Now you have been pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, Lord, have blessed it, and it will be blessed forever” 1 Chronicles 17:26-27
Since God forbid David from building the temple himself, he helped gather materials and prepare the plans for the temple’s construction. David said to Solomon,
“I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the Lord a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them. You have many workers: stonecutters, masons, and carpenters, as well as those skilled in every kind of work in gold and silver, bronze and iron—craftsmen beyond number. Now begin the work, and the Lord be with you” 1 Chronicles 22:14-16.
Maybe your unfulfilled dream is a setup for someone else’s dream to come along.
2) Our dreams aren’t always the best for us.
When I was 15, there were unfulfilled dreams I look back on when I was 5 that I was grateful never came true. I’m glad the whole world didn’t turn into a giant Candyland board game, and I would have looked ridiculous wearing Princess Jasmine’s outfit to school. As a near 40-year old, I can look back at 25 and admit I am thankful that my 15-year-old dreams also did not come true. I prefer my husband to Tom Cruise, and as a stay-at-home mom with a 1-year-old, I was happy that I didn’t live in that RV at the beach that my friends and I dreamed of.
With each decade, I realize that I know more with each passing decade, and the things I dreamed about just wouldn’t have been best for me.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Jeremiah wrote this promise from God to the Israelite people when they were in a pretty awful situation. Their land had been taken, and they were in captivity. Even though they were miserable, God used captivity to save them from their own complete self-destruction through sin.
When I decide what is best for me instead of God, I will be miserable whether my dreams come true or not.
When we are not accomplishing our dreams, we can have faith that God has things under His control. Remember, the dreams you are hoping now for may not even be what you want in ten years.
3) A dream could have been an idol in your life.
St. Augustine, the famous Christian preacher in the 4th century, said idols are just disordered loves. They don’t start out bad, but we get into trouble when we make good things into our ultimate thing. This can happen with our hopes and dreams too.
When what we accomplish becomes more important than what Jesus accomplished for us, then we lose sight of why we are dreaming in the first place.
King Saul started well as a humble man with a dream to lead God’s people and protect them. However, he degenerated later to become a tyrant and a vicious manhunter. His sense of insecurity and his jealous streak drove him to commit severe atrocities against innocent people. Somewhere along the way, Saul’s dream of leading the people became distorted into a quest for power and grasping for control. He made the kingdom and his position into an idol.
Then Saul became very angry, for this saying displeased him, and he said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed [only] thousands. Now, what more can he have but the kingdom?” Saul looked at David with suspicion [and jealously] from that day forward. 1 Samuel 18:8-9 AMP (emphasis added)
In the Old Testament, whenever a good king comes into power or is struck with the greatness of God, the first thing they will do is get rid of idolatry. Why? Because that is the root of our problems before God.
We take good dreams and aspirations, and suddenly without realizing it, those things become of most importance in our lives.
Our dreams and hopes may be entirely reasonable and God-pleasing, but perhaps something didn’t happen to protect you from an even worse situation.
4) Death is not the end.
“Let my people go. Bring them to a land I have promised for them.”
This vision from God guided Moses since he was a young man, as he freed the enslaved people from Egypt, led the Israelites through seas, over deserts, and to the edge of the Promised Land. But on the way, things got extremely rocky (no pun intended!), and Moses lost his temper and took matters into his own hands. By striking a rock with his staff instead of speaking words, Moses disobeyed God’s command and lost sight of the dream God had given him. The consequence was harsh: Moses would never enter the Promised Land.
When we take matters into our own hands, and things become our doing, we thwart our ability ever fully to enjoy them when we get them. Moses took matters into his own hands and derailed the whole project. He died never going into the Promised Land, ending with an unfulfilled dream.
That is, unless you understand the significance of the Promised Land in the Bible. The Promised Land wasn’t just the physical land God promised as a heritage to his people, even though that was included. God’s Promised Land is the heaven and eternal life that is the heritage of all who come to him through his Son.
After death, Moses experienced the Promised Land in the perfect way that Jesus had intended for him. Not with the millstone of the Israelite people around his neck, but with Jesus beside him. His entering the promised land would not include aching feet, swords, blood, or barriers—only glorious perfect communion with Jesus and an ideal kingdom in complete peace and harmony.
If left with a choice, there’s no way Moses would ever have wanted to go into the Promised Land in his former life!
An unfulfilled dream will become a perfect blessing someday when we have an eternity mindset.
Trust that God is working out the absolute best for you. Everything that is wrong and should never have happened to you will be fixed, erased, repaired, and restored brand new! He will take all the good that you have done and make a tapestry out of it. Nothing will be forgotten. Matthew 7:7 says,
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Every single thing you dream of that’s remotely good will come to pass.
This isn’t about a prosperity gospel, “You’ll get what you have coming to you,” type of mentality. I am talking of a deep trust in God’s providence no matter what happens. God is working mightily in you, faithful servant. Your work will not go to waste.
For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. Colossians 1:29
Does this mean we just give up on dreaming? Not at all! Keep toiling! Keep dreaming and planning! But do so without regret. Here are three ways to check your dreams:
- Are you telling others your dreams?
- Is it beyond your ability?
- What will be better if your dream is fulfilled? (does your dream go beyond yourself?)
Trust that God knows your heart, and desires to bring about goodness and mercy in your life. Share some of your dreams and hopes you have for the future below in the comments.