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Moving Forward When Life Doesn’t Go As You Planned

Moving Forward When Life Doesn’t Go As You Planned

What was your best moment of this year? And what was your worst moment of the year?

Every January since graduating from the university I attended, I and my old college housemates and our spouses rent a cabin on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, where the Twilight series was filmed, and we spend a weekend together. 

Saturday night dinner has become a bit of a tradition. We all plate our food and sit at the long table together. Between bites, each of us shares our best and worst moments of the last year. This gives us a chance to be as honest and vulnerable as we want to be with our greatest triumphs and our most painful disappointments. We’ve learned to create an honest space to talk about how we really are.

So let’s do that here. I’ll go first. I want to tell you about my worst moment of the year a few years ago that eventually led to the writing my book, Say Yes, but to stay true to the tradition of the Saturday night dinner, I’ll start with the opposite.

That particular year, my best moment was taking our young children to Disneyland for the first time . . . which sounds completely cliché, I know. But have you ever been to Disneyland with little kids? When you go with little kids, the experience truly is magical. 

Now . . . what was my worst moment of the year?

Well, that particular year, my worst moment took place on a toilet. Now, it did not involve my bowels. But it did happen on a toilet.

At that time my wife and I were renting a quirky little house just outside of Portland, Oregon. One night, I put my kids to sleep in their bunk beds and closed the door to their room, and I noticed I was crying. Now me crying isn’t especially troublesome. I’m completely comfortable being the bearded middle-aged man silently weeping in the theater during the Pixar film that suspiciously seems not to be written for children. I own being a crier. But I wasn’t crying because my kids and I had just read a magical bedtime story. No, this was something different. I tried to stop myself from crying, but I couldn’t. The sobs got deeper and deeper . . . and I made my way to the only bathroom in our whole house—a tiny little bathroom right off the kitchen—and I sat on the toilet and just wept. I wept for about an hour. Twenty minutes into crying, my wife found me and said, “Oh my gosh! Are you okay?” I tried to say something, but all I could answer with was more sobbing. She came into the bathroom and began to rub my back, asking, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“My tears are me talking about it,” I stuttered. “I don’t know what this is.”

With the passage of some time and with some reflection on that moment, I realized what was happening: a dream was dying in me. For a long, long time, I’d had a certain dream, and somehow physiologically and psychologically my body understood this dream was never going to come to fruition . . . and I was grieving the loss and death of it.

What was your worst moment in the last year?

I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to be in your skin. I can’t fathom the pain some of you have gone through. The losses you’ve experienced. The suffering you’ve had to endure. The disappointment you’re still heartbroken over. Again, I don’t know what it’s like to be you. But my guess is that your worst moment of the year was something like a dream dying. The dream of the way you thought life was going to work out but it didn’t. The dream of the kind of suffering you thought you were going to be insulated from and you weren’t. The dream of the kind of person you thought you were going to become and you haven’t.

Do you know this feeling? Have you had a moment like this? Maybe without a toilet, but I’m guessing you have.

What was your dream that died?

Maybe it had to do with the person you fell in love with.

Maybe it was to enjoy the shape and form of your body.

Maybe it was to turn your passion into a career.

Maybe it was to maintain a hopeful outlook on life.

Maybe it was the dream of the family you hoped to create.

Maybe it was that thing you’ve been working on for years.

Maybe it was the commas in your bank account.

Maybe it was to have a more vibrant faith.

Maybe it was to believe more strongly in joy.

Maybe it was to enjoy the gift of your existence.

Whatever your experience, I want you to know you’re normal and you can find solidarity here. What a whirlwind life has been of late, and many factors we have no control over have affected and irrevocably changed our lives. But global circumstances aside, we all experience a death of some dream in our lives, because a dream is usually formed by seeing something in someone else and not being able to accomplish that. 

Maybe you saw someone doing their thing and thought, I want to be like them, and you started to pursue that particular manifestation. The truth is that none of us can ever actually become someone else. Even if we acquired all the things they had, we still would never accomplish that dream, because we will never embody someone else’s incarnation fully. We can only become the fullest version of ourselves . . . and honestly, none of us know what our unique manifestation of that looks like yet.

But we hope to know. And crying on that toilet, feeling the death of a dream, was the door of hope opening a little. I could now see more clearly my cherished desire. Eventually, I stopped crying and spent some time thinking about what was happening to me. The question I found myself asking at the end of that time was this: What am I going to do with this newfound discovery of the kind of person I want to be in the world?

Adapted from Say Yes: Discover the Surprising Life Beyond the Heath of a Dream by Scott Erickson.  Copyright ©2022 by Scott Erickson. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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