You’ve probably heard this quote by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

Many of us dream of having great relationships with a spouse, children, co-workers, neighbors, friends or extended family. Even self-professed loners long for fulfilling relationships. It’s in our DNA because God made us social creatures: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

If we balk at moving toward fulfilling relationships, it’s usually because we have unresolved hurt in our past. And let’s face it, it’s easier to deny our pain than it is to work through it. I know. I’ve tried both options.

But Sirleaf, the first female President of any African nation, preceded her famous statement with another just as profound: “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them.”

When our wants exceed us

If we dare to dream greatly, we must face a fact—we have to grow. We can’t stay where we are. We have to move forward.

We can see this easy enough in education and career goals. For example, after 25 years my husband is returning to school to get his Master’s degree in counseling. My very fit man of action who dislikes computers is now spending 3-5 hours each day on a laptop. It is difficult, but he is determined to push through the challenges so he can realize his dreams.

I left a steady income as a public school teacher to start writing full-time. When I started, I only had an inkling of how much new stuff I would have to learn (and master) to actually market myself. Just when I think I’m getting a handle on this 8-legged monstrosity called internet marketing, it grows 4 more. It can feel overwhelming.

Relationships Are Another Story

So if we understand and accept the necessity of growth when reaching for a dream job, why is it so hard for us to apply the same principle when reaching for dream relationships? Quite simply because relationship changes scare the hell out of us. The kinds of changes they require are more often internal—patience, self-denial, and transparency.

Let’s face it: If you dream of a great marriage, you know you’re going to have to become vulnerable to your partner.

If you have kids and hunger to be a great parent, you’re going to have to learn to shut up and listen (to your kids and to other parents), accept that you don’t have all the answers (in fact, you’re wrong a lot), then be vulnerable enough to your kids to admit it to them (and yes, take the chance they could use your admission as ammunition later).

If you want to have handful of close, trustworthy friends recognize the fact that everyone has been hurt in some way, you may have to take the lead. Admit to them that you need them, and then be the example of vulnerability. Sure, they might not reciprocate, but you’ll never know unless you put it out there. You’d be amazed how many lonely, fearful people there are out there.

Walking Across the Pain

Think of life as a path and all our past hurts or core wounds as a pit or chasm blocking us from reaching our dreams on the other side. We’re all terrified of falling in, but there is only one way over the chasm and it’s a rickety bridge, full of holes, loose boards, and frayed rope for hand-holds.

As we stand with our foot on the first step of the bridge, most of us fix our eyes on the chasm (our past pain) or on the bridge (our abilities) and we are tempted to flee.

Instead we need to fix our eyes on the other side and see what is waiting for us. Paul said, set your hearts and “minds on things above, not on earthly things.”[1]

We don’t have any choice about what has been done to us, but do have a choice what we do with it.

Instead of hiding from your past pain, use it as a bridge to walk toward your future of love and acceptance from God and other lost and hurting souls.

My Intimacy Manifesto is a great place to start to build authentic relationships (and it’s FREE). Here are a few other great resources to help you cross the bridge: