Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dreams and Realities - Shepherd

What is a mid-life crisis? Is it the time when we recognize that some of our dreams will never become realities? We all have dreams and many times, it is the dreams that motivate us to action in our youth. However, with the advancing years, we come to realize that some of our dreams will never be realized. There may be legitimate reasons for this. Perhaps the dreams truly were impossible, in that we had more dreams that could ever be realized in one lifetime. Perhaps they were subject to the will of other people and thus beyond our control. Perhaps they may yet be realized but we risk losing hope in our awareness of the passing of time. The crisis comes when we become aware that our cherished dreams may not be realized and we must either abandon hope or come to terms with our situation.

What are some of those dreams and what prevents them from becoming realities? Some of our dreams arise out of our career ambitions. When we are young and see the opportunities before us in a chosen profession we dream of climbing the ladder to success in our field. With the passing of time, we discover obstacles in our path. Those in authority may not recognize the value of the projects in which we have invested our energy. Colleagues who are no more competent than we are may be promoted over us, simply because they happened to be in the right place at the right time. We then find ourselves in a situation where further advancement seems unlikely and the reality dawns on us that we are not going to rise to the top of the ladder. How do we come to terms with this?

Other dreams may be in the area of personal development. Perhaps there has been one person for whom we have had tremendous admiration. Our dream and our desire have been to be like that person. This dream can fail to be realized in two ways. We may discover that upon closer inspection this hero or heroine has feet of clay. They are not the person that we thought they were, but have the same human faults and frailties that are common to us all. The dream vanishes as we realize the futility of striving to be like someone no better than we are. On the other hand, we may not become aware of the weaknesses of our hero or heroine, but instead discover that because of our own particular makeup we can never be like this person. They may have a reflective spirit and no matter how much we try, our active spirit is limited in its capacity for reflection. They may be gifted with creative hands that enable them to express their ideas while our capacities are limited to the manipulation of words. Despite our heroic efforts, we will never be the same as the person whom we so much admire, since we have an entirely different makeup. How do we come to terms with this frustration?

Another area where we risk having dreams that may never be realized is in relationships. This is particularly so if we have become parents. Our aspiration is that our children will realize all the dreams we have for them. It might be in the areas of academic or material success, or perhaps in finding security and happiness as we define it for them. Our dreams may also be for spiritual or psychological well-being, as we wish to see them fulfilling their entire potential and becoming all that they can be. This is a domain where we are limited in the impact that we can have upon the realization of these dreams. How do we cope with they fail to materialize?

In order to come to terms with dreams that may never become realities, it seems to me that our own spiritual and psychological well-being will require us to look closely at our dreams and examine why they have not been realized. Then we can decide how we will go on and whether we will discard the dream or allow it to determine our future or allow the process to transform us so that we can accept the situation and continue to live with hope.

For example, let us look at the career dream. We have already mentioned some obvious reasons why the dream of career success may not be realized. There might be other aspects of this situation. Do we really have the capacity required to run the business? Are we willing to devote the amount of time required to make sure that the enterprise remains successful? Are there other priorities in our lives that have become more important to us that our career? To respond negatively to the first two questions and positively to the third one, does not indicate that we are in any way a failure because this dream has not been realized. The dream may have been pushed aside by another dream that has become more important for us. In that case, we can dismiss the dream of career success as the motivation of youth and turn our energies to the achievement of the dream that embodies our passion. To relinquish this career dream will cause a minimum of pain.

The dreams we have had in the area of personal development may be a little more complex. The process of sifting through them in order to determine how we will handle our disappointment at their failure to materialize will require us to know ourselves. This will involve evaluating our particular strengths and weaknesses in order to compare these with those of our hero or heroine. Such a process requires a strong sense of our own identity. The process may push us to deal with the existential questions of life, if we have not successfully done so in our youth. It might be for us a second chance. We can ask ourselves, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "Does my life have a purpose?" "Where am I heading?" It is when we ask such questions and sincerely search for the answers that we are able to allow the discoveries we make to transform our lives. Honest questioning will lead us inevitably to God who is the author of the best dreams for us. It is in a relationship with Him, made possible through Jesus Christ that we will realize who we are, why we are here, what our true purpose is and where we are heading. We will discover the only hero who will never deceive or disappoint us. He even enables us to become like Him. It is Jesus Christ. With Him, though all other dreams might fail to become realities, we will always have hope.

The dreams that risk being the most complex are those that we have in the area of relationships. These dreams are not subject only to our own responses, but also to the actions and responses of others. This is particularly true for our children. While they are small, we have a great deal of influence on their choices and can in large measure determine the direction of their lives. However, when they begin to develop independence their future becomes their own and is no longer under our control. Their right to make their own choice means that we risk never seeing our dreams for them realized. How do we handle this? We can apply the same criteria we use in analyzing our own unfulfilled dreams. Do they have the capacities to realize the dreams that we have for them? Are their dreams for themselves the same dreams as we have for them? This is a key question.

However, an even more important question we need to consider is, "What dreams does God have for them?" In recognizing our own purpose in life provided by Jesus Christ, we need to realize that He also has a purpose for their lives. This is confirmed by the Bible in promises like Jeremiah 29: 11. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." We need to remember that the Lord loves our children even more than we do and that His plans for them are perfect. What then do we do with our dreams for them that are not realized? The best thing that we can do is to present those dreams to the Lord in offering to Him again the children that He has entrusted to us for a short while. The dreams we eventually see realized in them risk being better than the dreams that we have for them. We can trust them to "…He who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…" Handling unrealized dreams for our children this way, strengthens our hope that is anchored in a certain reality. Discarding the dreams that are not ours to hold on to, can lead to a positive future for us and our children. In addition, we will learn patience as God transforms us into people of hope.

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