Grieving What Never Was

Forget the former things

Scrolling through Facebook produces a mixed bag of content – the everyday reports from your family and friends, the funny stuff that’s shared and reshared, the stuff that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, the occasional offensive post, and the ones I like best – the inspirational words that speak truth deep into your soul.

Two days ago John Piper posted one of the latter. It has resonated with over 40,000 people according to the number of “likes,” shares, and comments it has garnered so far. The reason I saw it at all was because several of my Facebook friends from various different walks of life either liked or shared it. Piper’s post gave this admonition:

“Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.” – John Piper

 Every person living on this imperfect planet has hoped for something that will never be. We often think of losses as those things we once had but no longer possess. But sometimes losses are intangible, as in dreams or hopes we once had that have either grown dim or died.

forest fire

Grief is part of life for everyone in this fallen world. The difference is the losses we grieve aren’t exactly the same from person to person. Whether it is never having a child, losing a child, or raising a child who doesn’t make “right” choices, there is grief involved. Whether it is not having a spouse, having a spouse who doesn’t understand you, or worse yet one who betrays or abandons you, there is grief involved. There is grief over the loss of freedom just as there is grief over the loss of companionship. There is grief when a job is lost, a vacation doesn’t live up to expectations, a friend does something hurtful, or a ministry dies a long slow death. Each and every person has hopes and expectations that go unfulfilled.

new plant growth

 Piper makes an important point: before being able to grasp hold of the life and good things we do have, we need to let go of the old, even if the old is a dream that never came true.

For years I’ve been well aware of the need for singles, especially those who grew up assuming they would marry and have a family, to grieve the loss of what never came to pass. But it was while visiting a ninety-something year old single friend that it hit me that the grieving never ends.

This amazing friend of mine had lived a full and purposeful life and was loved by many. But as she settled into an apartment in a retirement community she observed her friends and neighbors entertaining grandchildren and great-grandchildren and felt deeply the loss of not having her own. This was a woman who had many friends and family who visited her, but still she felt that loss – the loss of a specific lifestyle never lived.

This was both disconcerting and encouraging to me – disconcerting because I realized the grieving in this life never completely ends, but at the same time tremendously encouraging because I also realized that, despite the need to grieve, one could live a full and meaningful life. My friend was living proof!

Piper’s quote reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages where God says in Isaiah 43:

forest stream

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

Here God was telling Israel how he was going to redeem what they had lost while in captivity in Babylon. They had many losses to mourn, both tangible and intangible.  And yet God was saying, “Forget all that and see this new thing I am doing for you, and this new life I am giving you!”

I believe He is saying the same to us: “No, that dream you had for your life isn’t the plan I had for you. Yes, it is a good thing, and I do give that gift to some of my children. But for you I have something different – something good and meaningful, a purpose in my Kingdom that I appointed you for specifically. A purpose that will give you more fulfillment than anything else ever could. After all, I have promised each and every one of my children an abundant life!”

new growth

Can we trust Him for that? Can we reach out our hands and receive it from Him who loves us more deeply than our earthly minds and hearts can comprehend?

Yes, grieving is essential to all God has for us. It’s important we weep over that which we hoped for but never was. It’s crucial because it’s how we let go of the old, how we stop dwelling on the past, and how we are then able to open our arms wide to all that our Heavenly Father has for us!

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  1. So good, Fern. Thank you. This post dovetails with a conversation I had with a friend earlier today about letting go of intangible things. I need to think on this perspective some more, and yes, do some grieving and then moving on–in more than one area of life. Thank you for both the challenge and the encouragement.

  2. I try my best to let go of the past, but as I get older, I reflect on what didnt happen in my life. Thanks for this post, I am encouraged!

  3. Just the encouragement I needed

  4. How much easier would it be if God removed the desire from my heart for things I’ll never have: a family…to know the faithful love of a husband. If it’s not in His will for me, why must I long for it? Most days I win this battle with my flesh…but on the days I don’t win, it beats me to a pulp. Still, God remains <3

  5. Terry C, Sims says:

    This was a great message for me. I always thought I would have someone to love and to be loved in return, but I am 66 years old without husband or children. I am the oldest of 4 siblings and the only one who did not marry and have a family. While my brother and two sisters married and had families, I took care of my parents. My father died in May of 2000 and my mother died in May of 2015. My sister and her husband are in ministry and I know If I had not taken care of my parents, they would not have the ministry that they have. My sister says that now it is time for me to have a life, but I am having to let go of the life I dreamed of having. I am having to let the dream die, and I can tell you it is difficult. I am asking God for a new dream. Again, thanks so much for this article.

    1. Fern Horst says:

      You’re most welcome, Terry. I appreciate your comments and openness. It’s not easy looking back when your life is more than half over and realize it wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be. But I believe God has been greatly honored by your choices, and that He still has great things for you, whether in the “mundane” and “ordinary” or in something else. God delights in seeing us living out the purpose for which He created us, and when we hit that sweet spot — no matter what it is — we can experience that delight, too.

      Have you considered coaching with Shari to narrow down your purpose and for assistance in navigating what’s next for you? I highly recommend her services. You’ll find her to be a genuine, caring friend as well as coach. You can read more about her here:

      I know without a doubt God delights in revealing His purpose for us and equipping us to live it out. He may reveal it to you through coaching services such as Shari’s, or by some other means. Just ask Him. I know He’ll show you!

  6. I am so glad this is being spoken about. I started stages of grieving my life. Spend most my adult life in grief because of many things. But I recognized God grieve with us. He grieves for all plan is muddled by a sinful world we live in. The only hope we have is to channel Gods goodness and faithfulness through our own surrender and obedience. I have even been angry and yelled at God because I didn’t choose to be born into sin, but alas here we are. Acceptance is the final stage of grief. I don’t agree we will
    Always grieve. I think if we press into the reknewing of our minds through the word and Jesus we can turn the grief into beauty and flowers for others. But we must carry our own cross till we are fully dead to our sins.

  7. Oh wow this was a tremendous article! You have written down what God has recently worked in my life. God is doing a new thing !
    I am excited for what God has for me even though it is different from what I had planned for my life. I’m thankful that these losses aren’t for nothing and that one day he will wipe away every tear from our eyes .

  8. Jesus walked thru the valley of the shadow of death for me by hanging on the cross.I’ll never be good enough to enter the gates of heaven,but by his love and grace my dept. has been paid in full. I love God Jesus and the Holy Spirit.