Do you remember your childhood dreams? Mine included a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas and getting permission to ride my bicycle to school. I also had a few more serious dreams, like hoping my parents would get back together rather than file for divorce.

We all have dreams, but what happens when those dreams die or are cut short? Instead of an authentic Cabbage Patch doll, I got the homemade version cleverly constructed of my grandmother's pantyhose. Instead of getting to ride my bicycle to school, I was grounded from it for disobeying. And rather than reconciling, my parents moved on to new relationships.

While most of my childhood dreams seem trivial now, the death of those dreams unfortunately taught me to dream less. As I got older, my dreams became tainted by the fear of reality. Only on a few rare occasions have I allowed myself the luxury of dreaming big.

Perhaps you have been there too. And what's worse is that the few dreams that we dare to dream in adulthood carry so much weight that when they are shattered, we often find our hearts shattered too.

I was reminded of the pain of shattered dreams while watching Ann Curry's recent good-bye on The Today Show. This was a career goal that the Asian American journalist had worked towards for 15 years. After sagging ratings, her dream quickly ended as she was asked to leave the show after only one year hosting alongside Matt Lauer. One report noted that she had experienced "a barrage of negative press, criticizing her performance, her chemistry with Lauer, and even holding her responsible for the Today show's ratings woes."

Curry herself expressed this regret during her painful, teary goodbye to viewers: "For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't get the ball over the finish line, but man, I did try." (Curry returned to NBC briefly to cover the Colorado shooting, and has since been replaced by co-host Savannah Guthrie.)

We have all been there—the end of a dream.

Maybe your stage wasn't quite as large as Curry's but the dream was just as significant for you. It may have been a career goal, or the longing to have a child. It may have been a desire to pursue a talent or marry the man of your dreams.

Oftentimes our shattered dreams confront us with a crisis of identity. This was true for me nearly eight years ago, when the career I'd always dreamed of left me feeling void and insignificant. I was convinced that the achievement of the dream would solve all my hidden insecurities and question marks about my worth. Instead, I found myself more empty and uncertain and wrestling with my purpose and calling than ever.

During that season, I stumbled upon The Message translation of Galatians 6:4-5: "Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you've been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don't be impressed with yourself. Don't compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life."

I was fascinated by that passage and desperate to understand what it looks like to "do the creative best you can with your own life." My life didn't feel creative. It felt hollow.

What God showed me through that journey was that I had not first "made a careful exploration of who I am." I had defined myself by my own desires and dreams rather than first understanding who I am in Christ. A shattered dream feels exceptionally painful when we've tied up our worth and significance in it.

If you are suffering from the death of a dream today, here's what I would say to you.

  • You are not your dream. While it feels like your whole world, you are more than your dream. Go back to God's promises in Scripture, and be reminded of who you are in him.
  • Don't let the death of your dream define you.Don't let perceived failure crush you. You are stronger. You are still extraordinarily gifted. Don't let this moment in time stop you from continuing to be all that you are called to be.
  • Own what you can. What can you learn? How can you grow from this? Let this be a stepping-stone to something greater.
  • Go ahead and cry. You need to mourn and let yourself wrestle with the emotions.
  • Breathe deeply, and surround yourself with the people who love you dearly and unconditionally.This is a moment to remember what matters most. Your dreams will come and go, but remember what really gives you life.

I believe that God wants us to dream. He has set eternity in our hearts and given us the longing for greater things. When those dreams are birthed from a place of security and confidence in who we are in Christ, our value and worth are no longer tied to whether those dreams become a reality. Instead of feelings of insignificance or failure, we learn to view unfilled dreams as part of the journey—and every realized dream as a blessing we don't deserve.

Jenni Catron is the executive director of Cross Point Church in Nashville and founder of Cultivate Her. She writes at Leading in Shades of Grey.