In Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, Dr. Larry Crabb takes us deeply below the surface of our souls where he reveals, teaches, rebukes, exhorts and helps us slowly understand our deepest joy is truly only found in Christ. The journey God uses in our life to discover this profound Spiritual truth is via shattered dreams. Dr. Crabb says his calling and purpose for writing Shattered Dreams has three key components: encounter, community and transformation. “I sense God’s call to encounter Him in a way that fills my soul with more joy than any other experience and to lead others toward a similar encounter.” He invites us to taste and see that the Lord is good. He believes, “Our shattered dreams are never random, but are pieces in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story.” He believes the Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, the One our soul is truly seeking. Dr. Crabb claims we are wise to embrace our suffering as an opportunity to encounter God with passion and to experience genuine transformation especially in the way we approach and love others. This is what frees us to get close to others in authentic community; “Shattered dreams are not accidents of fate. They are ordained opportunities for the Spirit first to awaken then to satisfy our highest dream.” We are reminded that God’s ways are not our ways, as Scripture clearly states, when Dr. Crabb truthfully points out how God sometimes seems silent or unwilling to help when our worlds are falling apart. Dr. Crabb teaches us in this book that, “In fact, what He’s doing while we suffer is leading us into the depths of our being, into the center of our soul where we will feel our strongest passions. It’s there that we discover our desire for God. We begin to feel a desire to know Him that not only survives all our pain, but actually thrives in it until that desire becomes more intense than our desire for things, good or bad, that we previously wanted more than God.”
Throughout the book, Dr. Crabb creatively and wisely uses the story of Naomi in the Book of Ruth as a testimony to this truth that God uses shattered dreams in our lives for His glory and our good. Honestly, through the pain of my shattered ultimate dream; I, too, personally found, believe and can testify that we can wake-up to the realization that what we truly want and need and were created and designed for is an encounter with God. Once we realize this we will want Him more than we want the blessings of life. And, as Dr. Crabb reports, that understanding begins a revolution in our lives.
Dr. Crabb explains why he used the book of Ruth to illustrate his teaching, “From Naomi’s story, I learn that dreams for good things shatter, but our pain will always have purpose. It will not go away, but it will do its work. It will stir an appetite for a higher purpose-the better hope of knowing God well enough now to love Him above everything else… and trusting Him no matter what happens.” He further explains, “From the story of Naomi, I learn Six lessons…They are the necessary lessons if we are to develop into people with peace and power and unspeakable joy no matter what our circumstances may be, if we are to become the community of the joyful broken who reveal by our lives that the gospel is true.”
Lesson 1: Shattered dreams are necessary for spiritual growth. Our fondest dreams for this life, the ones we naturally believe are essential to our happiness must be fully abandoned if we are to know God well.
Lesson 2: Shattered dreams produce excruciating pain, sometimes so extreme that we fear we cannot survive. Something wonderful survives everything terrible, and it surfaces most clearly when we hurt.
Lesson 3: Some cherished dream will crumble in your life. That’s inevitable. Some dreams important to us will shatter, and the realization that God could have fulfilled that dream pushes us into a terrible battle with Him.
Lesson 4: A child always given candy never learns to like vegetables. Only an experience of deep pain develops a capacity for recognizing and enjoying true life.
Lesson 5: Most people never discover true life. Not many Christians drink deeply from the well of living water aka Christ. As a result, our worship, our community, and our witness are weak.
Lesson 6: The past is irreparable; the future is always available. In every case, when good dreams shatter, better ones are there to newly value and pursue. The better dreams are indestructible. No matter what happens in life, a wonderful dream is available, always, that if pursued will generate an unfamiliar, radically new internal experience. That experience, strange at first, will eventually be recognized as joy.
My Shattered Dream
In Spring 2004, Ed Hague, the Assistant Pastor at Wildwood Church in Tallahassee, FL lovingly and wisely insisted I read Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy after hearing the state of my marriage behind closed doors. I was a young mother of five very young children at the time ages 3 to 11 years. After hearing my story of a marriage in crisis, he knew without question that my marriage was rapidly heading toward divorce. Despite my hope and faith that God was more than able to redeem and restore my marriage, I took Pastor Ed’s words of wisdom to heart. He explained God may be doing a work in my husband, Joe’s, heart that required me to love him boldly by letting him go instead of enabling a double- life that was keeping him from true conversion and faith in Christ. He explained God cared more about my husband’s heart and mine than maintaining a marriage that had become, or had always been, nothing more than a façade. “If the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace,” 1 Corinthians 7:15. I did not hesitate to purchase this book that day and read it as on mission with God.
The depths of insight and wealth of knowledge of who God really is, who we truly are and what He truly desires for us in life this side of Heaven was challenging beyond words. Jesus lovingly explained as He instructed the woman at the well, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks,” John 4:23. Two key words in this scripture are Spirit and truth. I was beginning to realize just as my marriage was a façade, or, at best a poor excuse for a marriage, my love for Christ was not deeply genuine or true, because I desired something more than God, I desired the “perfect family” or the façade of a perfect family and marriage. I worshipped the creations more than the Creator, the dream more than the Dream- giver. Not intentionally. My sin blinded me to my sin, but the truth set me free. Divorce is my truth. Although excruciatingly painful and humbling; God in His infinite wisdom and unfailing love for me knew what had to be done for me to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. He was not satisfied with me just going through the motions of worship or responding out of duty not devotion. Most of my Christian life prior to that point; I believed if I pray and apply Biblical principles to life than life will go well and at least appear victorious on the outside. This belief “worked” for several years, so I was happy and felt abundantly blessed and key word- deserving. Jesus’s promise, “In this world you will have trouble.,” did not resonate with my theology or represent my Christian experience.
Before my ultimate dream was shattered, I was a happy Christian, but, as Dr. Crabb explains, “Happy people do not love well. Joyful people do. That’s why happiness, the pleasant feelings that circumstances generate, must be taken away in order to be replaced by joy.” Step by step while reading this book, processing my pain and trusting more and more in Christ to satisfy my lonely desperate heart, I was learning as Jonah learned that “those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” My faith before my dreams were shattered was tainted, untested, undeveloped, weak, superficial, and elementary.
My whole life, even prior to becoming a Christian, all I desired was to be a wife and mother. I did not have a career goal. I honestly went to college with the intention to kill time until I obtained my “MRS. Degree.” I majored in Psychology for the sole-purpose it would, perhaps, help me to be a better wife and mother one day. From the point of salvation until my engagement the object of my prayers was for a spouse, so having to obey God by co-operating with Him in pursuing divorce, embarking on a journey of single parenting, forever wearing the scarlet letter D and having the legacy of a broken family was ridiculously ironic, frightening, overwhelming, agonizing and painful to the point of deep despair.
My dream of having the perfect family is forever shattered. I can now forever relate to Paul’s experience, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself,…Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death,” 2 Corinthians 1:8, 9. Likewise, Jesus’ heart’s-cry in the garden to His disciples while anticipating His imminent crucifixion; come alive to me in a fresh way now, “’My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’ Going a little further, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will,”’ Matthew 26:38,39.
Paul went on as Jesus did to explain ultimately what matters is our faith in God alone, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.,” 2 Corinthians 1:9. Plus, Scripture describes Jesus as, “Son though he was, He learned obedience from what he suffered,” Hebrews 5:8. That all being said, I wonder why I would think connecting more intimately and deeply with God would not require moments or seasons of extreme suffering of us, too. Plus, I realize and rejoice that I am in good company with suffering through this process of grieving shattered dreams and persevering through a new life that no longer sees God as my personal blessing machine like a genie. Instead, I now take the Biblical teaching to heart, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything,” James 1:2-4.
1 Peter 3-7 explains, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 3-7.
This verse seems to say It brings Jesus greater glory and honor when we genuinely worship Him after our faith has been tested via shattered dreams. Despite our loss, we still worship Him; while knowing He has been given complete authority in Heaven and on earth. In other words, knowing, He could have intervened and healed on our behalf, but for whatever reasons, most likely to test our faith and glorify Him all the more, He chooses not to.
I truly believe God used His Word and Dr. Crabb’s book, Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, to sustain my life, while catapulting my naïve faith to deeper levels during this time of suffering. It helped me believe that a tested faith will lead me to a deeper joy, the highest of highs, and most importantly to glorify God more far more than what my idea of blessings can produce. I learned to trust God despite my circumstances, and it helped me realize that God’s love for me is not demonstrated in my circumstances, but it is always demonstrated at the cross. And, the joy of the Lord is truly my strength. It helped me see that deep joy is truly found through a faith that experiences and encounters God deeply beyond surface blessings. Dr. Crabb states, “Shattered dreams are the truest blessings; they help us discover our true hope. But It can take a long, dark time to discover it.”
St. Augustine’s Spiritual Battle
St. Augustine is said to be arguably one of the church’s greatest theologians after Paul. Dr. Crabb uses St. Augustine’s documented battle with sexual addiction to highlight his point that a joyful encounter with God is crucial to set us free from our idols. Apparently, St. Augustine’s sinfulness vs. the Holiness of God were the chief and sole sources of his torment. In a book that details his life, Confessions, Augustine speaks directly to God about his struggle, “I was frantic, overcome by violent anger with myself for not accepting your will…I tore my hair and hammered my forehead with my fists; I locked my fingers and hugged my knees.” Dr. Crabb describes St. Augustine’s Spiritual battle and shattered dreams this way; “Augustine identified the exact center of his battle as his inability, not to control his sexual passions, but to enjoy God more than sex. He reports he searched ‘for a means of gaining the strength I need to enjoy you.’”
Freedom came for Augustine when he encountered God, when he met God in a way few Christians in our generation have ever experienced, “I shall now tell and confess to the glory of Your name how You released me from the fetters of lust which held me so tightly shackled and from my slavery to the things of this world.”
Dr. Crabb encourages us to notice that it was an encounter with God that transformed Augustine’s life and freed him to minister and interact productively in Christian community, which contributes to our experiencing deep joy. It was an encounter with God that was more pleasurable than sex and freed St. Augustine, not more will- power, but more surrender to God and pursuing a deeper connection with God, through transparency and authenticity at His feet.
“How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me, You who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure.” -St. Augustine
Dr. Crabb points out from St. Augustine’s candid battle, we too can rejoice that the cure to every addiction and freedom from every form of slavery to something or someone other than God is worship. St. Augustine, states it this way, “Only a thrilling, soul-pleasuring encounter with God that generates more pleasure than sin will free us from our addiction to sin.”
The Journey to Joy
In the final chapter of Shattered Dreams: God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, titled, “The Journey to Joy,” Dr. Crab, after much contemplation about life, rightfully assumes for us, “You long for an encounter with God, community with others, and real transformation within yourself…. But, you want to encounter God, to find in your relationship with Him a pleasure that exceeds all other pleasures, a joy that sustains you in every sorrow.” He insists to fully experience this, we must ask ourselves two questions:
1. How do I think about God?
2. How do I think about myself?
Believing as the Scriptures teach zeal without knowledge is fleeting, and knowledge without passion is legalistic; I embrace these questions with tenacity and seek the answers like a child seeks her presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. I can’t wait to see the gift that awaits wrapped up in the answers to these simple, seemingly obvious, yet eternally profound questions presented in a fresh challenging new way by Dr. Crabb.
Regarding the first question, how do I think about God? Dr. Crabb reminds us that the Bible clearly reveals that God is absolutely holy. Paul introduces God to the Romans as a holy God that is passionately furious of all that is unholy. Yet, Dr. Crabb suggests the problem is our modern-day Church tends to introduce grace too soon, thus weakening the holiness of God. That’s our first mistake, we reduce the holiness of God who is passionate about wrath to a fatherly God with strict standards who understands and looks the other way or sticks His head in the sand when we sin. It’s what Deitrich Bonhoeffer calls cheap grace, and according to Crabb, “It develops when we talk about grace before we tremble at God’s holiness.” That’s one way we tend to egregiously erroneously think about God vs how the Bible describes Him.
How do we think about ourselves? First, Dr. Crabb reminds us of what the Bible states about us and warns, “if you are looking for a quick boost to your self-esteem, the Bible is not a good book to read.” The Bible describes us as hopelessly arrogant, and that we are “foolish enough to think that we’re the point of things, that our happiness, our sense of well-being matters more than anything else… We wrongly believe self-interest is a virtue, but God tells us it’s the essence of evil. God is the point, we are not. He gets the glory we do not.” We are not the center of the universe after all, God is. God has always been the center of the universe. It revolves around Him, and it will never revolve around us. Dr. Crabb states, “Our evil demands that our sense of well-being be honored above God’s glory, deserves punishment. It arouses God’s wrath. He declares us guilty, worthy of damnation; eternal separation from the Source of everything good.” He continues, “Because we focus more on our longings than our evil, we see ourselves NOT as hopelessly arrogant, worthy of eternal misery, but as scoldably selfish, deserving of perhaps a slap on the wrist.”
Why is it so crucial to know the truth to these two questions to the point of tattooing them forever on our hearts, carving them on every bone in our body and saturating our souls with them till they are the foundation of every thought, always on the tip of our tongue, continually on our minds and the first and last thought and prayer of each day? The answers are the source of true transformation that lead us to authentic passionate worship of God in Spirit and in truth, which is our purpose for life and glorifies Him to the fullest. This is the true worship He longs for and desires and created us for and seeks. He is more glorified in us as we are more satisfied in Him. We are satisfied in Him when we know who He is vs. who we are. Understanding the depths of our sinfulness vs. the holiness of God is AMAZING grace and an opportunity to experience and encounter His UNFAILING love and His peace that passes understanding.
Larry Crabb describes it this way, “When arrogant people who know they deserve eternal misery tremble before a holy God of passionate wrath, they discover grace. They encounter the depths of God’s kindness and love, a kindness and love they find nowhere else. They fall to their knees and worship Christ as their Lord and Savior and as their truest friend; really their only true friend. They know they don’t deserve a hug, no matter how badly they’re hurting; but they get an eternal one anyway…They become spiritual people, not nutty but wise as they dream the dream of knowing Christ even better. And, they welcome shattered dreams as friends. They enter their pain and discover an arrogant spirit that says, ‘I don’t deserve this.’ They tremble in their unholiness before a holy God and discover how passionately they want to have a good relationship with Him. Then He reveals a new way of grace, the gospel that lets them draw near to God and discover how wonderful He is.”
We can finally understand in the depths of our desperate hungry and thirsty souls that, because of Christ’s death on the cross for our many sins, including the deeper core issues of failing to love God fully and failing to love others fully, we can boldly approach God with freedom and confidence. We understand that Christ’s willingness and obedience, despite the agony it caused Him, to exchange our sinfulness for His righteousness is worthy of endless devotion to Him. We are realizing that God asked Christ to take the cross to reconcile our lost souls to Him, so we rejoice in worship of this co-operation of the Trinity for their amazing grace and unfailing love ultimately for God’s glory and our eternal good. It is then that we truly worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I now believe with all my heart; while embracing these two amazing truths in light of the purpose of shattered dreams that, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,” 2 Corinthians 4:17.
Author: Barbara A. Scott
Barbara Ann Scott earned her Master of Arts in Christian Counseling from Maranatha Christian University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Stetson University. For almost twenty years her career has revolved around assessing core issues and implementing effective treatment plans and solutions for severely traumatized mental health clients. Barbara has five thriving young adult children, whom she raised as single, full-time working mother for fifteen years. Barbara knows the joys and tribulations of life firsthand both personally and professionally. She has witnessed the indestructible life of Christ transform her life, her children’s lives and the lives of her clients. She is passionate and called to counsel and coach others through anxiety, depression and fear to a life of peace, freedom and deep joy found through a personal relationship with Christ and a growing knowledge of His word!