Remembering the Future

The most painful state of being is remembering the future. (Soren Kierkegaard)

The words literally took my breath way. Popped out of the character’s mouth in the TV show I was watching, and knifed into my heart with such urgency that I tapped the screen’s “pause” icon and stopped, speaking the words aloud and letting them sort of settle into me.

The most painful state of being is remembering the future. 

And I immediately, that proverbial light bulb burning with sudden brilliance in my head, understood why it is that a treasured pastor of mine says “Julie, sometimes, the hardest thing there ever is to grieve is a dream.”

Because to remember the future is to realize that what we thought would be has not, in fact, been. Not at all. 

A dream lost. A dream destroyed.  A dream broken apart by forces seen and unseen. A dream of what could have been–what you’d hoped, planned and prayed for–shattered on the kitchen floor like a wine glass that has slipped through your fingers, the pieces flung far and wide and sometimes not to be really found or uncovered until we least expect it, when some tiny shard pricks at us until the ache feels fresh again. Like it was just yesterday that it all fell apart and you wondered how in the world the sun could ever have the tenacity to rise the next morning in the midst of all the darkness.

Broken dreams burrow inside our souls, taking up residency with the same insistency the dream did to begin with, when it was whole and happy and not some jacked up version of what we’d imagined for our lives. Whether it’s a lost relationship or lost innocence or a lost career or a loved one’s death or departure–these things knock us off our game, bruise our hearts beyond recognition, and leave us asking “What’s next?” with the desperation born of tremendous sorrow and gripping fear.

Broken dreams are capable of destroying us. This I know is true. And so to remember the future is to stare in the face that which could, if we let it, rip us apart. And this is terrifying.

And when a person is in the depths of grieving a broken dream, there is no telling her the very real truth that it will, one day, be okay again. That she will, in fact, survive. You can say these things. You can believe them with all your heart. And she might even want you to say them. But that does not mean she can believe them. Not yet, anyway.

Not quite yet.

I always say there is so much I don’t know. And that’s true. But I do know this: that it is possible for a broken dream, even as it pains you to the core of your being, to end up being the very thing that makes way for something new. Something previously unimagined. Something you’d long ago given up on. Something you never thought could be.

I know that it is possible to rise up from the shards scattered on the kitchen floor and claim space for a new dream to be made known…to be born.

I know, too, that the old dream, the one that has been left dashed against the hopes you once had, never to be made real after all, is one that you never quite let go of. You always will remember what might have been. You always will remember the future. And every time, it will cause your heart to twist…though if you’re very, very lucky, the twisting becomes less fierce, less tight, less painful as the years pass and you learn what it is to laugh again. Breathe again. Live again.

There is no erasing the things that have broken our dreams. There is only seeing what can be made of them, what might be salvaged from the wreckage and crafted into hope or joy or peace, such that we’re able to stand on both feet, proud of where we’ve been because it has made us who we are.

“The most painful state of being is remembering the future.” Kierkegaard’s mic drop if there ever was. But also a signal that not all is lost. That perhaps in the remembering we’ll also be reminded of what new things are now possible, what new promises might be made, and what new hopes might be able to pull us into whatever is out there, calling for us, beckoning us to please come home, to please find safe harbor in the midst of what has almost undone us and, then, finally, rest in the grace that has held us safe the whole way through, and that will go with us always.

Through whatever darkness may come. And into whatever light is waiting.



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