Two and a half years ago, my life completely changed. Yet from the outside looking in, my life looked exactly the same.
I guess I should back up a bit. This story starts with a dream that God placed in my heart while I was in high school. As God stirred in me a passion and burden for compassion, justice and global mission, I began to dream of one day spending a year abroad, in the Global South.
When the time came for me to apply for university, I applied and was accepted to the program of my dreams: a five-year International Development Studies co-op program in which fourth year is spent abroad, working in the Global South.
Fast forward to my third year, as the time came for me to begin applying and preparing for my year abroad. Looking back now, I was already beginning to sense that my dream was changing, but I couldn’t possibly imagine giving up this dream—my whole life had been structured around it! So, I dismissed this nagging feeling—until I was presented with an offer. It seemed like everything I wanted: a position working with youth at a Christian organization in East Africa.
But as I prepared to accept the offer, I suddenly knew with overwhelming certainty: this dream wasn’t mine anymore.
Discerning God’s voice is a deeply personal and complex thing, but in the days between receiving that offer and rejecting it, what I heard through prayer and community was clear: don’t go, stay home.
Everything had changed. I was mourning the loss of a dream. I feared people wouldn’t understand my decision. I was wrestling with questions like why and what’s next?
And yet, to most people in my life, nothing seemed different about my life at all.
I imagine others can relate to this feeling—in big and small ways. A rejection for a dream job no one knew you applied for. A miscarriage when no one knew you were pregnant. A move to a new city that fell through.
How do you adapt to your life not changing, when you expected it to—wanted it to?
The gift I gave myself in that season was grief—even if it felt silly or like no one understood. I was honest with myself about how I was feeling, instead of pushing it away. Even a year later, when I would simply wonder how my life might have looked if I had accepted that offer, I let myself feel that.
I believe it enabled me to really see what God was doing in the new. My fourth year ended up being greater than I could’ve imagined—different, indeed, but great. And I know it doesn’t always happen that way—the new thing doesn’t always become evident right away. But no matter the circumstance, honest grief is so important.
Giving myself the gift of honestly grieving the old, allowed me to step into the new.
Right now, we’re in this incredible season of change. I believe grief is so important in this season. To be honest about the things we’ve lost and not just try to grit our teeth through it.
Resilient and adaptable people don’t ignore their grief—they lean into it and listen to what it has to say about our individual and collective experiences. In this season of change unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, let’s give ourselves and each other the gift of grief, and with it, the power to walk through this moment with honesty—and hope.
Alyssa Esparaz is a writer, speaker and justice advocate. She works as Content and Communications Specialist at Compassion Canada and is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s International Development Studies program.