Afraid to Dream

by Apr 1, 2016Courage, Cultivate13 comments

“Nothing happens unless first we dream.”
—Carl Sandburg, poet

At the final breakfast of the 2016 Mount Hermon Writers Conference, literary agent Wendy Lawton stood and addressed all those who hadn’t yet been whisked away by the airport shuttles. She offered a challenge to dream.

I had tried this kind of a challenge before. You write down your goals for the next year and then you seal them in an envelope you address to yourself. In six months you receive it in the mail as a reminder. The difference I heard in this challenge was the request to dream big. I borrowed a pen and slid the form in front of me.

I thought of a reachable, realistic goal.

Dream big, Jan.

I struggled to double the first goal I thought of and forced myself to write another that felt both big and elusive. At this moment I’m not entirely sure what I wrote down, but I do remember I winced at the emotions whirling inside.

I am afraid to dream.

Have you been afraid to dream?
What would it be like to dream with the Lord to see where he is leading you?

Over the next few days, the thought and its question kept prodding and tugging—especially when I wasn’t expecting it. A case in point: one afternoon as I was reading Psalm 116.

When I read the psalm through the first time, the first two verses stood out: “I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” (v. 1-2).

I thought, how beautiful. He not only hears our voice, he bends down to listen. What a tender picture.

And there was that word, voice. Anytime I see that in Scripture I think of Voice of Courage. I think of women who long for someone to hear and see them and offer hope that life can hold healing and be meaningful. I think of those who desire to use their voice as they move into places of leadership in their communities.

Longing. Desire.

I read Psalm 116 again and saw this verse:
“I will keep my promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people” (v. 14).

Bam, the connection.

I wrote in my journal:
“I have been afraid to dream. Part of this is a longing to simply trust you with the future you are unfolding. And yet, I believe you are calling me to dream, to envision a life that is full in you. Dream with me, Lord. Help me see the desires of your heart, for being afraid to dream has led to being afraid to promise.”

I prayed the Lord would bend down and hear my voice, that he would hear my fear and my longing to dream, a heart cry I did not yet fully understand. Again I turned to the psalm and this time I saw:

“And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth” (v. 9).

As I live . . . fully live.

Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). When Jesus said this, the word he used for “life” was not the Greek word bios but zoe. Walking in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth is not to be a life of mere existence but one lived with passion and vitality.

One lived daring to dream.

What do you long for? What might you dare to dream?
What is one beginning place where you can say yes and move into what God is unfolding?

I was beginning to see a few of the fear perspectives that were getting in the way of living fully and daring to dream. Last year’s cancer diagnosis and this year’s continued fight. What ifs—like what if I don’t have enough time for my dreams? What if I can’t complete it? What if I fail? What if it doesn’t make a difference?

I spent the next moments in Psalm 116 asking God to help me set intentional yeses that could shift me away from the derailing thoughts and fears, that could instead move me into living fully with passion and vitality. Yeses that would also assure my dreams are shaped by him, bigger than those I tentatively create on my own.

Yes to voicing my prayers as long as I have breath. (v. 2)
Yes to calling on the name of the Lord. (v. 4)
Yes to resting in God’s goodness. (v. 7)
Yes to daily walking in his presence as I live on the earth. (v. 9)
Yes to crying out to him with belief. (v. 10-11)
Yes to completing what I promised together with his people. (v. 14)
Yes to offering all I have for all He has done for me. (v. 13-14, 17-18)

And so yes to daring, dreaming, promising and fully living.

Dear friend, I invite you to join me on this “yes” journey. We as women, as influencers in our homes, neighborhoods and communities, as writers and creators, need to dream and explore where God might be taking the longings and desires he has planted in our hearts. Dreaming with him is one way we step more fully into who we are, into our voice and unfolding story.

What do you long for? What is your dream? Is it big enough that it stretches you to fully trust God with it? What gets in the way of saying yes to it? In the comment section below, share your thoughts, your heart, your questions, your dream. This is a place where we can learn from one another and pray for each other as we begin, with God, to say yes and to dream.

Verses quoted from the New Living Translation.


  1. Joy Martin

    You had me at–“And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth”. 2nd time God has brought up Psalm 116 this week …and the verses following, “In my anxiety I cried out to you …” These are verses of both comfort and direction …YES! …walking with you Jan. Thanks so much for these words. God always knows the timing of when I am to read these posts ;-). May God fulfill the dreams He has given you far and above your wildest imaginations!

    • Jan Kern

      I love how God brings His words as highlighted themes through our weeks, nudging us to see Him, see His invitations or truth or character. Thank you for sharing your words here, Joy, your glimpses of Him. Thank you too for walking with me. May we continue to receive his comfort and direction as well as joy in the above-our-wildest-imaginations, intricately-shaped dreams He has for each of us.

      • Joy Martin

        By the way, I wanted to thank you for the “follow” on the blog…it was a humbling encouragement. I also love how God has woven us together through our mutual friends, Faith T., Nicole K., and Bruce M. …love the body of Christ!

        • Jan Kern

          I didn’t know of that connection. How fun! Faith has been a personal friend for years, and I met Nicole, Bruce and his wife at the recent Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. Nicole was in my pre-conference Next Level clinic. Such wonderful people!

          • Joy Martin

            Okay …last comment 😉 …just to connect the dots, Faith and Nicole are friends and church buddies here in AL and Bruce is my pastor who happens to be my brother-in-law as well 😉

  2. Joanne Reese

    Thank you for such a beautiful post, Jan. I’ve always been a dreamer, even as a little girl. I believe each of us has been given something specific to accomplish but it can only find fruition as we walk closely with the Lord. I’ve learned along this journey that my dream aligns with God’s will only after my own ideas of such have been surrendered. This was a very painful process for me and several years of God’s silence followed, making it seem like the dream had died altogether. But last year, through Allen Arnold’s amazing workshop, God extended His hand and invited me to dance on the tops of His feet and to dream again! Only this time, He would be the one to lead things. I could tell you that my dream has to do with becoming a best-selling novelist, that I would have a lucrative and ministering editing business, a blog with a gazillion followers and that I would move my readers deeply and speak all over the country sharing God’s love. But the heart of each of these aspirations beats for something so much simpler – to hear God’s voice each day and to have the courage to respond in a way that pleases Him. I believe the rest will fall beautifully into place, book contract or not. God’s dream for me far surpasses anything I could imagine. He truly is the only prize worth pursuing.

    • Jan Kern

      Beautiful journey, Joanne. Your heart is so clearly seeking God’s shaping and leading of what your life and dreams can be. I love that image of you dancing on the tops of his feet. I look forward to hearing, and perhaps seeing, where the dance takes you.

  3. Susan Sage

    This resonated with me so deeply that I struggle to see what I’m posting here.
    “I have been afraid to dream. Part of this is a longing to simply trust you with the future you are unfolding. And yet, I believe you are calling me to dream, to envision a life that is full in you. Dream with me, Lord. Help me see the desires of your heart, for being afraid to dream has led to being afraid to promise.”
    Thanks for the honesty, the vulnerability, the encouragement to dream. God bless,

    • Jan Kern

      Feel free to borrow that prayer, Susan, if that is the part that most resonates. And let me know where the Lord takes you as you dream with him. So thankful he is with us and for us!

  4. Paula Bicknell

    Loved this post, Jan! Thank you! I so relate to what you’re feeling. A couple of years ago, I’d decided it was time to dream big with my writing. I signed up for Mt. Hermon’s writers conference and sent my money in for the conference. A week later, I was diagnosed with melanoma cancer on my leg. I went through the surgery and couldn’t walk for several months, but I was determined to go to Mt. Hermon anyway. My daughter drove me down to the conference. It was the first real walking I’d done since my operation. Several days into the conference, I collapsed in James Scott Bell’s class. My husband drove me home and I ended up in the hospital for several days with a breakdown. I took a break from writing for a year. Physical and emotional healing took time. Then, nudged by God, I wrote my story in the form of a memoir. Now I’m scared to death to put it out there for people to read. I want to dream big again, but I’m struggling with fear. I will be praying for you, Jan. Please pray for me.

    • Jan Kern

      Paula, thank you for courageously sharing a glimpse of your story here. I only knew hints of it before. We need to set that coffee date soon! I want to hear more about your story and the writing of your memoir. I’m honored to pray for you–that you can dream big again. Thank you for praying for me too.

  5. Laurie Davies

    Jan, I too, sort of stumbled when Wendy encouraged us to dream big. Me? No. That’s what I want my readers to do. But me? Crazy, I know. Why is that question, that challenge, that charge to dream big so disarming? I’m not ready to share what I wrote in the comments just yet. Maybe someone else will be brave! But my dream IS audacious. Doable and audacious. Thank you for pointing my eyes to Psalm 116. What a breath of fresh air this was today.

    • Jan Kern

      Thank you for telling us a bit of your story and struggle with dreaming big, Laurie. There are likely many like us who falter at such a challenge. You are one of those who pushed through to create your audacious dream. That’s exciting and inspiring! I can’t wait for you to share it–when it’s time.

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