I Dreamed a Dream

By Doug Samples


What kind of childhood dreams did you have when you were growing up?  I recently asked this question to some of my friends and received over 50 great responses.  Can you find your childhood dream in this list?  Or would you have something new to add?

  • Astronaut!  (Most popular response!)
  • Broadway star… Rock star… Dancer
  • Super Hero
  • Fireman
  • Doctor… Nurse
  • Teacher
  • Airplane pilot… Stewardess
  • Policeman
  • Architect
  • Researcher
  • Zoologist
  • DJ on the radio
  • Dolphin trainer
  • Making hamburgers at McDonalds
  • Missionary to Africa
  • Professional Sports
    • Point guard for the Lakers
    • Point guard for the Spurs
    • Center for the Spurs
    • Quarterback for the Broncos
    • Linebacker for the Giants
    • First baseman for the Cubs
    • Second baseman for the Cubs
    • Shortstop for the Cubs
    • Pitcher for the Yankees
    • Second base for the Yankees (Mine!)
    • Pitching a no-hitter for the Tigers against the Yankees!
    • Hitting the game winning shot in the championship game!
  • Unique Childhood Dreams
    • Be the “big man” at a large construction company, calling the shots, wearing a white pressed shirt with a corner office on the top floor of a sky scraper!
    • Defend an unpopular case before the U.S. Supreme Court… and WIN!
    • Drive Route 66 in a vintage Corvette
    • Be the princess who gets rescued by the prince
    • And from my friend Gordon Graves: “I didn’t have any childhood dreams cause I always thought I’d get to be a kid forever!”

Somewhere in between “Childhood Dreams” and “Bucket Lists” is Life!  Every once in a while, we actually get to see some of our dreams come true.  We plan our work and work our plan.  Life seems to cooperate with us and we experience a certain measure of success.  Other times, however, life can be brutal and harsh.  Our plans unravel and our dreams die.

Today’s song and sermon, “I Dreamed a Dream” is especially meant for all of us who remember the dreams of our idealistic youth when we thought that life was such a great adventure.  Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way we planned.

In the musical, Les Misérables, there is a young lady by the name of Fantine who knows exactly what it means to feel the anguish of broken dreams.  She sings…
“I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving.
Then I was young and unafraid,
And dreams were made and used and wasted.
There was no ransom to be paid,
No song unsung, no wine, untasted.”


In her younger years, Fantine had been a ravishing beauty, with thick, wavy blond tresses.  “Her splendid teeth had evidently been endowed by  God with one purpose only, and that was to laugh.  Her rosy lips babbled with enchantment.” (p. 107)  In the passion of youth, she had given herself to a lover who “took her childhood” and gave her a child and then abandoned her, breaking her heart.

Out of desperation, she leaves her young daughter, Cossette, in the care of innkeepers who take advantage of both mother and daughter.  Fantine worked at Jean Valjean’s factory until a co-worker exposed her as an unwed mother and got her fired.  To pay for the escalating cost demanded by the Thénardiers, Fantine slowly succumbs to the depths of brokenness as the difficulties of life pile upon her.  First, she sells a possession… her necklace; next she sells a part of her… her hair; finally she sells herself… as a prostitute.

She has lost her joy, her smile, her beauty, her hair, her hope, her innocence, her integrity, her decency.  Life has beat her to death.  There was a time…
“I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…”

Gospel Parallels

Fantine’s story reminds me of the story in the Bible of a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and brought before Jesus.  From John 8:2-5, we read, “At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’”

Like the woman in the factory who discovers Fantine’s secret, the Pharisees seem to be overjoyed to have caught this awful woman in the very act of her sin.  They relish the opportunity to parade her almost nude and embarrassed body in front of the crowds.

What is she feeling while she is standing there in front of Jesus?  In front of her accusers?  In front of the gathering crowd?  In front of the 1st Century paparazzi?  Is it possible that her husband has found his way to the disturbance, only to find his unfaithful wife as the center of attention?  Maybe even her two young children?  Feelings of embarrassment… Shame… Anger… Disgrace…Brokenness… Humiliation…

Thoughts of…  I didn’t mean to end up here!  How have I gotten this messed up?  How could I have let this go this far?  Here I am a half-naked slut standing in front of this holy person.  I am so ashamed!

Can’t you hear this broken woman singing Fantine’s song!
“I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…”

Life Application

Fantine’s story also makes me think of you and me and the dreams that we have had.  It would seem that for some of us, all our greatest dreams have come true.  In fact, when I am dedicating a baby, I often include in my prayers, “And may all his/her dreams come true.”

I recently asked a number of my friends to share with me their childhood dreams and received an amazing response: everything from astronauts, to professional baseball players, to singing on Broadway!  A few of them even expressed the joy of seeing their childhood dreams come true.  However, some of us here today know what it’s like to see our dreams be broken and crushed like Fantine.

Like a lot of your friends, you stood at an altar with your beloved and made promises to be with each other “till death us do part.”  You were just as serious as your friends and you meant your vows as much as your friends did.  But somehow, over time, you realized that something was terribly wrong and your dreams of a happy marriage began to crumble and fall apart.

Many of us have slowly watched as the dream of a “forever young and healthy body” keeps slipping away from us.  Whether it is watching our parents dissolve into the distant land of Alzheimer’s… or we’re taking more pills at more hours of the day… or just realizing that we can’t put in a full day’s work or stay up all night like we used to.

For some, it may be the baffling confusion of waking up to the questions of “How did I get so far away from the path that I used to live and love?  When did that enjoyable diversion become an enslaving addiction?  When did I give up control of my life to THAT?  I never would have dreamed that I would end up here!”

The tender truth is that dying dreams are not just reserved for us older folks!  It may even the young person who comes to a point of desperation saying, “I’m always going to be fat” or “I’m never going to be as smart as other people” or “I wish I wouldn’t have given away my virginity so easily.”

There is a saying that goes something like, “Young people gather wood to build a stairway to the stars, but old people use their wood to build an outhouse!”  In our younger days we often feel like we are invincible and that we can do anything.  We have such lofty dreams!  Such high hopes!  Visions of sugarplums dance in our heads!  But as the years pass, we are confronted with our immortality and the brutal realities of life.

Even though we try to hide it, how many of us have become inwardly aware of the agonizing reality that we are not going to accomplish the things we dreamed of in younger days.  In the privacy of your own heart, how would you finish the sentence, “I am never going to …”

What did you gather your wood for?  What big plans did you have for your life?  What great things were you going to accomplish?  Like Fantine we are painfully aware that
“…the tigers come at night,
With their voices soft as thunder,
As they tear your hope apart,
And they turn your dream to shame.”

Can you name the tiger(s) that tore your dreams apart?  Can you see in your rear view mirror the twists and turns that took you off your dream path?  Can you remember what it was like to be alive enough to dream big dreams?

A number of years ago as I was struggling with my own broken dreams and searching for ways to cope with the realities of life, I found a poem that captured my inner despair.  It is entitled “Ghosts of Dreams” by William Herbert Carruth.

“Ghosts of Dreams”
By William Herbert Carruth
We are all of us dreamers of dreams,
On visions our childhood is fed;
And the heart of a child is unhaunted, it seems,
By ghosts of dreams that are dead.

From childhood to youth’s but a span,
And the years of our life are soon sped;
But the youth is no longer a youth, but a man,
When the first of his dreams is dead.

’Tis a cup of wormwood and gall,
When the doom of a great man is said;
And the best of a man is under a pall
When the best of his dreams is dead.

He may live on by compact and plan
When the fine bloom of living is shed,
But God pity the little that’s left of a man
When most of his dreams are dead.

Let him show a brave face if he can;
Let him woo fame and fortune instead;
Yet there’s not much to do, but to bury a man
When the last of his dreams is dead.

Does that poem connect with you as much as it does with me?  Which stanza… Which stage of life are you on?  The first?  The best?  The most?  The last?

I have a feeling that many of us have managed to cobble together a somewhat successful life – successful enough that other people are probably envious of us – but we still have unfulfilled dreams of how great we could have been (should have been) if only we would have “caught the right breaks” instead of that other guy!

Fantine is not supposed to be in this position!  The woman caught in adultery is not supposed to be in this position.  And most definitely, “I am not supposed to be in this position!”  So desperate!  So confused!  So bewildered!  So angry!  So unfair!  So not right!  So embarrassed!  So… “What’s going to happen to me now?”  So… “Where do I turn?”  So broken!  So lost!

It is for people like this… It is for times like this… that we desperately need to hear the gospel of Jesus!

“I’m so sorry for all your broken dreams.  I’m sorry for all the tigers that have torn your dreams apart.  I’m sorry for all those who are mean and ugly to the core, especially those who hide behind clerical collars, who only want to catch you doing wrong so they can heap condemnation on you.

“I’m sorry for all the breaks you didn’t catch.  I’m sorry that life hasn’t cooperated with your plans.  I’m sorry that your addictions have given you consequences that you did not want.  I’m sorry that the decisions of others have caused you so much pain.  I’m sorry that your own decisions have caused you so much pain.

“I’m sorry for the hell that you are trapped in.  I’m sorry for your shame.  I’m sorry for your broken heart.

“If you would let Me, I’d like to take all of that from you.  In it’s place I have a gift to give you.  If you would let Me, I would love to give you the gift of grace!  Receive My gift.  Receive My grace!

“I declare you to be Forgiven!  I declare you to be Free!”


7 thoughts on “I Dreamed a Dream

  1. Doug,

    As you closed with the poem, “Ghosts of a Dream” I was reminded of a song by Michael Card, “Mourning the Death of a Dream.” (I am including the lyric below. The song is a blend of Peter’s story and also Michael’s own journey and time away from family and home. While we have a significant song of lament in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables,” “I Dreamed a Dream” truly is a song of lament as well.

    Mourning the Death of a Dream
    by Michael Card

    Cool morning shadows sadly shift across the floor
    Each time we say goodbye it’s harder than before
    Even after all the pain of parting still we find
    That we must mourn the death of the dreams we leave behind

    As I turn my back on all that means the most to me
    The sounds and smells, the light that dances on the sea
    The greatest gamble is to act on the belief
    That only the slave who leaves it all is truly free

    The sacrifice that we both lay before His feet
    A thousand moments that belonged to us
    That now will never be

    By faith we hold a better dream inside our hearts
    A time when our family will never have to be apart
    Till then we struggle with just what it really means
    And we will mourn the death of our beautiful dreams
    Mourn the death of our beautiful dreams

  2. Doug, I don’t dwell on the unfulfilled dreams of my life. I have been blessed with a sucessful working life though it was not the career of my dreams. Now that I have retired I can honestly say I am at the most satisfying time of my life. I may be living out the last chapter but so far I feel I am being rewarded for the hard times and hard work I have lived to get to this point. As Dad would say “Count your blessings”. It is much more gratifying than mourning your lost dreams.

    • I would have to agree with Darrell. I don’t dwell on unfulfilled childhood dreams either. It appears that we are in vastly different places, but we have arrived at the same conclusion. For instance, I am not at the point of my life where I have begun to feel that there are some things that I can’t accomplish. Perhaps I am naive, perhaps being just shy of 30 I haven’t had enough disappointment, or perhaps my dreams have changed in such a way as to leave me fulfilled. My childhood dreams may have never come to fruition, but my first dreams of adulthood have. I think, even as a kid, I understood that I would never be the president, an astronaut, a professional athlete, etc. even though I dreamed of doing some of those things for at least a time. However, the dreams from my early adult life have been fulfilled. A wife, family, missionary who gets to travel the world, seeing the Spurs win the NBA Championships, attending a world cup match, running a marathon, and more. Not all of these have come about, but others have several times over. I guess what I am saying is that the dreams that meant more to me, that I actually thought would come true, have started to come true or at least I see plenty of time left to ensure they do.

      I cannot compare my life to Fantine, and perhaps this is one reason that I can speak so positively about my dreams; both fulfilled and the ones yet to be realized. I have known others who have overcome great odds and accomplished amazing things. Some of it may be our ability to make good choices, some of it may be our will power to persevere in the face of great trials, and perhaps most important of all, some of it may be through nothing more than our availability to rely on the Lord; His saving grace and guidance.

  3. I never dreamed dreams. I never dreamed of being a grandfather, but I have received so much joy from seeing my granddaughter run to me, shouting, “Grandpa! Let me climb on you!” I’m glad I never dreamed dreams because each time I experience a new joy – one I never dreamed of – I receive a dream to fill me up with a reality for the rest of my life, or as long as I can recognize reality.

  4. A friend of mine sent me this old Wesley hymn. I have never heard it sung before but the words are powerful! My wife, Cheryl, commented, “Only someone who has experienced deep sin could find the emotions to write about this depth of mercy!”

    “Depth of Mercy” first appeared in the Wesley hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1741.
    It had thirteen stanzas and was titled “After a Relapse Into Sin”

    Depth of mercy! can there be
    Mercy still reserved for me?
    Can my God His wrath forbear –
    Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

    I have long withstood His grace,
    Long provoked Him to His face,
    Would not hearken to His calls,
    Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

    I have spilt His precious blood,
    Trampled on the Son of God,
    Filled with pangs unspeakable,
    I, who yet am not in hell!

    I my Master have denied,
    I afresh have crucified,
    And profaned His hallowed Name,
    Put Him to an open shame.

    Now inlcine me to repent;
    Let me now my sins lament;
    Now my foul revolt deplore,
    Weep, believe, and sin no more.

    There for me the Saviour stands,
    Holding forth His wounded hands;
    God is love! I know, I feel,
    Jesus weeps and loves me still.

    What shall I say Thy grace to move?
    Lord, I am sin, but Thou art love:
    I give up every plea beside –
    Lord, I am lost, but Thou hast died.

    -Charles Wesley-

  5. If we are interested in having a prop for each song/sermon, I was wondering about using a locket for “I Dreamed a Dream.” Works as a symbol of Fantine and past hopes and longings and something that she gives up when life “kills the dream she dreamed.” There might be other ideas.

  6. Other people in the Bible who had to struggle with a dream that seemed to be lost: Joseph, Hagar, Abraham, Sarah, Hannah, Nehemiah, Mary & Joseph, two disciples on the road to Emmaus . . .

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