The call to my wife’s cell phone came on Christmas Eve, 2010.
‘Hi Merryn,’ the voice said, ‘it’s Emily, from the clinic.’
That Christmas was shaping up to be a Christmas like no other. Just a few days prior we had been given some news that we never thought we would receive. After ten years spent trying almost every means possible to start a family—including special diets and courses of fertility-boosting supplements, prayers for healing and chiropractic sessions (you’ll try anything), numerous rounds of costly IVF treatment, an agonizing two-year wait on an adoption list, followed by even more rounds of IVF—we had been told that she was pregnant.
After a decade of raised and dashed hopes, we were finally going to have a baby. We could hardly believe it.
Everyone Has a Broken Dream
Merryn was expecting Emily’s call. It was a routine call with the results of the latest blood test.
‘I’m afraid,’ Emily said quietly, ‘things have changed.’
‘What do you mean?’ Merryn said.
‘Your pregnancy hormone levels have dropped significantly.’
‘But, you told us we were preg…’
‘I am so sorry.’
An ultrasound a few days later revealed there had never been a baby inside Merryn. A gestational sac had been responsible for the pregnancy-like symptoms. Even the doctors had been fooled.
At that cruel news Merryn had put down the phone, walked into our bedroom and curled up in a fetal position.
Our ten year dream of having a baby was over.
You Can Start Again
By the time we reach our 30s, most of us have a broken dream. Perhaps 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 the whirlwind romance has ended in divorce. The details of our broken dreams may differ, but they share some commonalities. There is sadness, a sense of unfairness, even jealousy toward those who have what we want. Life feels meaningless, we may battle feelings of failure, and we may harbor anger toward others because of our plight.
But you can start again after a broken dream. Merryn and I did.
Out of a broken dream can come a new beginning.
The ‘Resurrection Year’
A few weeks before that fateful phone call, and before the good news that preceded it, I had interviewed British author Adrian Plass on my radio show. Adrian and I had gotten to know each other over the years and so, after the interview, I told him about the difficult journey Merryn and I had been on this past decade, and how we hoped 2011 would be better. He listened intently to my story and then said, ‘After what you’ve just told me, I think a Resurrection Year is just what you need.’
A Resurrection Year—a year of new life after the death of a dream.
The phrase immediately struck a chord.
A few weeks later Merryn and I sat on the balcony of our Sydney flat and started wondering what a Resurrection Year might look like.
‘It needs to be fun,’ Merryn said.
‘And restful,’ I said.
‘And full of adventure,’ she added.
‘With lots of beauty,’ I replied.
We didn’t know it then but, in just four months’ time, Merryn and I would be strapping ourselves into a plane, taxiing down a runway, and setting off for an adventure that we’d never have contemplated had our original dream come true. Soon we would be walking the streets of Rome, visiting the Basilicas of Paris, wandering the Alps of Switzerland and settling into a new home in the United Kingdom. Merryn would start a dream job at the University of Oxford, we would start to heal, and I would get a contract to write a book about the experience.
None of this was what we had planned for our lives.
Out of our broken dream came a suspiring new beginning.
Four Things You Can Do
You may not be able to leave home and move countries to recover from your broken dream. No matter. It’s been two years since our Resurrection Year and, as I reflect back on it, I see it had four main elements that can be experienced in any number of ways:
1. Get Some Rest
If you’ve experienced a broken dream you may well be exhausted, having spent considerable energy trying to attain what you desperately wanted. If you’re anything like us, you need some deep, restorative rest. Some ideas include:
- Weekends without housework
- Sleep ins and leisurely breakfasts
- Gentle walks in the country or by the seaside
- Perhaps a reduced workload at the office
- Time alone (if you’re an introvert) or with friends (if you’re extrovert)
For Merryn, this relaxation came particularly through reading novels. For me, it came through beauty—walking in beautiful places and visiting art and photographic galleries. Whatever it is for you, have a season of doing more of what truly relaxes you.
2. Have Some Recreation
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, like drawing, painting, gardening, photography
- Learning a musical instrument
- Joining a sporting club or a gym
- Starting a new project, like a walking group, or writing a book
Remember, recreation literally means ‘re-creation’. What helps you to re-create joy and energy? For me, this meant getting back into photography—a hobby I’d neglected amongst the stresses of the previous few years.
3. Find Renewal
There is a spiritual component to a broken dream. It can rock your sense of perspective and raise questions about the meaning of your life. You can wonder why this has happened to you. (As committed believers, Merryn and I wrestled with why a ‘good’ God didn’t answer our prayers for a child.) After some rest and recreation, you may be ready to start addressing some of these questions:
- By finding a spiritual mentor
- By expanding your perspective through good books, courses and seminars
- By journaling your feelings, attending a church service, or experimenting with a silent retreat
While in Switzerland, Merryn and I spent some time at a retreat centre working through our own questions. There are profound lessons to be learnt from suffering. Don’t miss them.
4. Try Some Reinvention
When a dream dies a little part of you does too, as you can’t become the person you’ve wanted to become. A certain degree of reinvention is needed. Try asking yourself:
- Who am I deep down? (Think about your personality and key relationships.)
- What new role or identity could I explore?
- 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. Do we still have days when we wish things were different? Of course we do. There are still occasional tears.
But we have been able to start again and experience some things we never would have dreamed of.
We have seen our broken dreams turned into new beginnings.