By the time we reach our 30s, most of us have a broken dream. We long to be married but are still single, or our artistic career has never taken off. Maybe a crushing diagnosis has shattered the dreams we held for our loved one, or a whirlwind romance has ended in divorce. As a result, we feel sadness, a sense of unfairness, perhaps even that life is meaningless.
But you can start again after a broken dream. My wife and I did.
Out of our broken dream came a new beginning.
The call came to my wife's cell phone on Christmas Eve, 2010. "Hi, Merryn, it's Emily, from the clinic." That Christmas was shaping up to be a defining one. Just a few days before, we'd been given some news we never thought we'd receive. After 10 years spent trying almost every means possible to start a family, including special diets and fertility-boosting supplements, healing prayer, costly IVF treatment, a two-year wait on an adoption list, followed by more IVF rounds, we had been told we were pregnant.
Pregnant! We could hardly believe it.
Merryn was expecting Emily's call — a routine call over the latest blood test.
"I'm afraid," Emily said quietly, "that things have changed."
"What do you mean?" Merryn said.
"Your pregnancy hormone levels have dropped significantly."
"I am so sorry."
At that cruel news, Merryn had put down the phone, walked into our bedroom and curled up in a fetal position. Our decade-long dream was over.
A few weeks before that fateful phone call, and the good news that preceded it, I'd been talking to a writer and friend, Adrian, about our difficult decade and how we hoped 2011 would be better. He listened carefully then said, '"After what you've just told me, I think a Resurrection Year is what you need."
A Resurrection Year — a year of new life after the death of a dream.
After the phone call we started planning.
Little did we know that in just four months, Merryn and I would be walking the streets of Rome, visiting the Basilicas of Paris, wandering the Alps of Switzerland and settling into a new home in Oxford, where Merryn would start her dream job and I would get a contract to write a book about the experience.
We would start again.
You may not be able to move countries to recover from your broken dream. No matter. Here are four things you can do to begin again:
1. Get some rest.
If you've experienced a broken dream, you may have spent considerable energy trying to attain what you wanted and now need some restorative rest. Some ideas include:
- Weekends without housework
- Sleeping in and leisurely breakfasts
- Gentle walks in the country or by the seaside
- Perhaps a reduced workload at the office
For Merryn, this relaxation came through reading novels. For me, it came through visiting art and photographic galleries. Whatever it is for you, have a season of doing more of it.
2. Build something new.
People with broken dreams couldn't create what they wanted and so they need to create something else. You could think about:
- Taking up a new hobby or learning a musical instrument
- Joining a sports club or a gym
- Starting a new project, like a walking group
- Writing a book
For me, this meant getting back into photography — a hobby I'd neglected among the stresses of the previous few years.
3. Help yourself search for answers to the deep questions.
There is a spiritual component to a broken dream. It can raise questions about the meaning of your life. After some rest and a new engaging project or activity, you may be ready to address some of these questions:
- By finding a mentor
- By expanding your perspective through good books and seminars
- By journaling your feelings
- By attending a church service
- By going on retreat
While in Switzerland, Merryn and I visited the L'Abri retreat center to work through our own questions. We learned some profound lessons though our suffering.
4. Spend some time figuring out the new you.
When a dream dies, you can't become the person you've wanted to become. Some reinvention is needed. Try asking yourself:
- Who am I deep down? (Think about your personality and key relationships.)
- What other dreams could I pursue?
- Can lessons from my own suffering be recycled to help others?
Has the new life Merryn and I started filled the void of not having a child? Of course not. There are still occasional tears. But we have been able to experience some things we never would have dreamed of.
We have started again after our broken dream.
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