Usually, I've been glad to end the involuntary imaginations. For instance, I dreamed that my late (yet still beloved) dog, Kodiak, had been kidnapped and needed rescue. I dreamed of learning a dark secret from a good friend's childhood. I dreamed that a hiker buddy died. I dreamed I went back to Inchelium, WA, and didn't quite fit in anymore. (I dreamed plenty of less dramatic plots as well. I'd tell you about them—if I could remember.)
I dream in the daytime, too; but daydreams are merely the products of ordinary wistfulness. Conversations I'd like to have with friends. People and places I'd like to visit. Hugs. Special events. How to get to know people better. How to heal from hurts and frustrations. What to do with the rest of my life.
But dreams differ significantly from goals. Dreams can be ridiculous, emotional, over-sized, lofty, or repining. Dreams are fairy tales you wish would just happen. Goals are determinations you intend to make happen.
The non-traditional, accelerated college program I'm enrolled in* starts out every student's studies with a Life Purpose Planning workbook, with pages full of exercises to help young people answer the question, "Why am I here?"
I'll admit it. I was skeptical at first. I'm 26, and I think I have a good idea of who I am, what my interests and passions are, and what I'd like to experience and accomplish in life. But, since I also enjoy healthy introspection, I plunged in. I answered those questions about my strong and weak points, activities I enjoy, how I learn and relate, people who have influenced me, callings I have accepted for my life, lifelong dreams & aspirations, and who I feel particularly drawn to minister to. I thought about failures and successes. I pinpointed the "biggest need" I see in the people around me, and how to model my life to address that need.
Then, I wrote out a "life purpose statement." Mind if I share?
I am resolved to live in total surrender to God and to let my heart be immersed and satisfied in the truth of His love—and to share this fulfilled experience with all who are hurting and longing for something better. Through writing, speaking, friendship, teaching, listening, and mentoring, I seek to influence, encourage, and disciple children, teenagers, young adults, and women in all walks of life (but especially the abused, oppressed, and forgotten) so that they too can find in Jesus the fulfillment of all their needs, and reach their own full potential. I want to share with all I can influence that the Lord heals the broken-hearted, that He satisfies the needs and longings of the heart—but that we need to be real, candid, and honest with ourselves and Him for this to happen. I want to help others see that they have an incredible worth—an unshakeable worth rooted in the love of God for them—worth that can't be annulled by the careless and uncaring people around them. I want to exemplify a life totally set apart for God, totally willing to follow and obey (wherever He sends me), and totally willing to share my own deep experiences for the enrichment of other lives.
A lofty dream. I found myself enamored. My college coach responded: "Pure beauty. . . . How?"
How. A question that pulls us down from the euphoric heights of daring dreams, to the human reality of finiteness.
I had two choices: allow my dreams to remain beautiful, untainted, unfulfilled dreams—or to turn them into goals.
Goals are practical. They aren't always glamorous. Goals can be simple, plain, and unsung. But goals propel us toward our dreams, and because of that, goals are priceless.
I took my daring dream to the God who gave it to me. I asked Him how to make it realistic. Then, together, we started breaking the dream down into strategies, large and small.
- Pray & study to understand God's love and my worth to Him.
- Memorize texts on God's love & human worth.
- Intercede for people I know are hurting.
- Write articles that are relevant to people's lives.
- Send encouraging letters.
- Deepen superficial friendships, seek out new friends, and take time to listen to friends who already trust me.
- Seek personal healing through the Word, books, DVD series, etc.
- Minister through tangible acts of service.
- Study great communicators.
The list goes on. But even these items can be a bit too lofty for real, nitty-gritty, everyday life.
So (with the help of the workbook), I've made a calendar. By the end of March, have Psalm 34 memorized. In April, do Psalm 37. In March, start re-reading The Desire of Ages. Start writing weekly notes to encourage friends and acquaintances (I've even got specific names on the docket). Observe the people I associate with at midwifery study groups and try to pinpoint in what ways they are hurting. Read a new book a friend recommended, about finding our worth in God. Pursue a friendship with a girl I've just become reacquainted with. Make a prayer list. Pray for compassion.
All of these items have dates and deadlines attached to them. They are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive (S.M.A.R.T. goals). They may not be dazzlingly romantic, or even the essence of the "pure beauty" reflected in my life purpose statement. But they are threads in the tapestry. They are pieces of the picture. They are steps up the mountain I seek to climb. They are things I can work toward today.
Because of this, I can look at even my little goals as daring dreams. Except these dreams I know how to accomplish.
Some dreams (like the ones I wake up remembering each morning) are better discarded. Some are sentimental, wistful, even silly. But a golden few are just too good to not come true—especially when we can choose and determine to make them happen.
Will you dare to make your dreams come true?
*College Plus. See http://www.collegeplus.org/tf/9009.