When I was a teenager I made a list of about seven goals I wanted to achieve in my life. At the ripe age of almost 60 I have achieved most of them, but it’s beginning to look like I will never achieve a couple of them. I found the church with the truth I had searched for—that only took until I was 18 years old—but it looks like I’ll never be the accomplished pianist my grandfather was and earning a PhD just doesn’t seem worth the money and effort required any more.
I, like most people I suppose, had my life all mapped out at the age of 18 to 20. I wanted to finish my education, have a large family, live in a lovely home, be a full-time mom like Olivia on The Waltons, have an unlimited supply of money, drive a red Mustang, keep my teenage figure, and manage my perfect children, well, perfectly.
That eventually didn’t work out exactly the way I wanted.
I’ve come to realize that very few people, if any, have the life they thought they would have when they were constructing their dreams as a young person with their whole life stretched out in front of them. But I’ve also come to some conclusions through the decades that have helped me deal with the vicissitudes and disappointments of this mortal life that seems so brief in the light of eternity but so very long sometimes through the lens of broken dreams.
If you are having some trouble dealing with the fact that your life has not turned out the way you planned it would, consider these thoughts:
We construct our dreams with incomplete information. Although we have intuitions, passions, and feelings from which we form our goals and dreams, we really don’t know exactly who we—as people, personalities, and in relationships—were in the pre-mortal existence. While we know what covenants we are to make and commandments we are to keep while on earth, we have or don’t remember any clearly defined assignments as to our jobs, living places, friends, hobbies, or even spouses. Even our babies plop into our arms as surprises to be discovered. We are left to figure a lot out on our own within the parameters of the gospel truths we embrace.
We wonder what choices we are to make. Which college should we go to? Which job should we apply for? Which person should we date? Many times the choices aren’t clear. And sometimes the choice that seems to be best isn’t even the one we really want. Does any man really want to be called to be the bishop? The promotion may mean more money, but it’s also more work. Do we really want that?
But maybe the very calling, vocation, or avocation the Lord is leading us toward is the very calling, vocation, or avocation we were the most excited to come to earth to do or become. Sometimes we just don’t know.
In a fireside address “The Play and The Plan,” Pres. Boyd K. Packer spoke of mortal life as the second act of a three-act play: “In mortality, we are like one who enters a theater just as the curtain goes up on the second act. We have missed Act I. The production has many plots and sub-plots that interweave, making it difficult to figure out who relates to whom and what relates to what, who are the heros and who are the villains. It is further complicated because you are not just a spectator; you are a member of the cast, on stage, in the middle of it all!
“As part of the eternal plan, the memory of our premortal life, Act I, is covered with a veil. Since you enter mortality at the beginning of Act II with no recollection of Act I, it is little wonder that it is difficult to understand what is going on.”
So then, aware of what our eternal destiny is through the gospel plan, but working with an incomplete knowledge of what exactly our plan is on how we get there, we might construct a plan for life that isn’t exactly what is best for us or was planned for us. Then as a consecrated person, or even halfway so, when that plan changes, we fight against the new plan and decide that life just isn’t turning out “the way it was supposed to.” Therein lies our discontent when perhaps it isn’t the plan that is the problem, but our limited understanding of what the plan really is.
I am a worm saver. After a rain, I seek out the stranded worms on the sidewalks and try to save them from the sun that will dry them out and kill them. With my superior knowledge I know they need to be in the moist earth once again, but they consistently struggle against my help, preferring instead to stay where they are, unaware their position will render them lifeless within a few hours. I empathize with them, feeling that I am often one of those stranded worms on the sidewalks, fighting against the God who knows what is best for us, trying to pick us up and placing us somewhere doing something that will eventually bring us the most happiness.
I like 1 Corinthians 13:12, which gives me hope that one day I will be in Act III and understand the whole play and my role in it: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
So if life isn’t working out the way we want it to, maybe we just don’t have a perfect understanding of what our life is supposed to be.
Another possibility in dealing with disappointment in life is that you can always have a part of your perfect life and be happy.