How I Learned to Dare to Dream

There is a difference between dreams and goals. It may seem subtle, but it’s actually really significant. You see, a goal has a timeline attached, it is intentionally realistic, and you have an idea of how you’re going to get there. A dream, on the other hand, dares to imagine what’s possible. It can be wild, unrealistic, and even bordering on impossible. You can set goals all day and not even be alive inside, but dreaming is by definition a function of the heart.

Today, I can say that I know how to dream—and set goals to move towards those dreams. However, this growth is all relatively recent.

This time last year, I was a double major working on an honors proposal for music (which makes honors students also complete regular comps). After a year of loss after loss in my family, my emotional health was a trainwreck, but I needed to accomplish the goal I’d had since Freshman year: Honors in Music. I spent 12 hours one Saturday writing a 10-page proposal, and even though I was a double major, it was approved. I was ecstatic.

Then, over the summer, I attended a two-week summer program for church musicians, and everything changed. Being removed from the high-pressure academic environment of Kenyon for the first time since Sophomore year, I re-discovered the life that exists outside of overachievement. At the end of the two weeks, the students were given a few hours to reflect on what we’d learned, and as I sat in the grass and journaled, I realized that I was actually deeply unhappy. I had been using my goals, and the emotional rewards that come with achieving them, to distract myself from the fact that I was in all sorts of emotional pain and was feeling constantly unfulfilled.

So, after talking with some of my leaders, both people who had just met me there, and the leaders from Kenyon who knew me best, I decided to take a semester off and enroll in School of the Heart, a three-month discipleship school in Harrisburg, PA. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and one of the many lessons I learned there was how to dream.

One of my long-term assignments for a class at School of the Heart was to make a list of 100 dreams for my life. The first ten were easy enough, and even the first twenty were possible. But after that, things started to get hard.

There comes a moment when trying to come up with so many dreams (for me, it was around dream 25) when you realize that you have nothing left to dream (or so you think). You think, “I’ve already dreamed about writing books. I’ve already dreamed about having a family. I’ve already dreamed about riding the world’s fastest roller coaster. I’ve literally written down every major goal I’ve ever had, and it’s not enough. What’s wrong with me?” The answer, of course, is that you haven’t learned to dream.

First of all, you can’t dream with a broken heart. Lots of people quote the Bible to say that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” but it’s really true. At that point, all of the loss from the past year, all of the times that I’d gotten my hopes up (from smaller things like not getting that part in the musical in high school to huge, looming disappointment that my grandmother lost her battle to cancer no matter how many times I prayed that she would be healed) had made it really tough for me to imagine anything beyond what I could make happen with my own two hands. Without realizing it, I had allowed all of my pain to steal my capacity for dreaming.

On top of that, you have to believe that you have value. I really struggled to believe that I was worth anything, and if I was worthless, then I didn’t deserve to have anything good happen in my life. I was swamped down by so many lies about how I was unlovable and insignificant that I couldn’t begin to believe in a good future filled with purpose and meaning.

My journey to dreaming was a journey of healing. It started with coming to grips with all of the junk that was keeping me from dreaming, and then I had to choose to fight that junk every step of the way. As I did, my heart began to come alive in ways that amazed me. Not only could I imagine a beautiful future, but the joy and beauty of it was leaking into the present. As I learned to dream, I learned to approach each day with a hopeful expectancy, and I can testify that my days actually got better when I was expectant.

Dreaming takes a certain kind of courage. To dream is to acknowledge that reality may never soar as high as your hopes (but it just might), and choose to go there anyway. It is a vulnerable, terrifying act that says, “I cannot force this, or make it happen, and I can’t do it on my own. Nevertheless, I will imagine it, hope for it, dwell on it, and expect it.” When you dream, you accept that you’re not in control, and yet you still choose to anticipate something good. Dreaming is a stalwart against cynicism, and it’s the harbinger of a healthy heart.

My name is Maggie Griffin, and I am a dreamer! As one dreamer to another, I encourage you: dare to dream.


Image credits: Maggie Griffin, 1, Maggie Griffin