I had very unsettling dreams last night. I had tossed and turned through them right up to 5:30 AM when my eyes open. Not my favorite way to wake in the morning – with vivid, distressing dreams right at the forefront threatening to undermine what should be a good day ahead. Bad dreams threatening to triumph over me.
I have done dream work through the years with a Christian therapist and have come to understand them differently than some in Christian therapy. I don’t consider my dreams divine messages from God – though I believe such messages do come to some in dreams – scripture tells us of many, actually. But, I don’t think of dreams as messages, in general.
I do understand them as insights into how my subconscious – my flesh – is dealing with my conscious reality – my daytime situation. Dreams are the ruminations of our unconscious more than messages – they let my rational, God loving and God-loved self know what my irrational human-self is trying to work out.
The therapist I consult explains that dreams come from my ‘junior’ – the part of me shaped in my childhood – the irrational, Junior self before adulthood and before Jesus. I made some big decisions in those years ‘before’ – out of my undeveloped Junior, providing me with a lifetime of material to work out in my dreams.
I’ve come to know, too, that what seems like an obvious association in a dream, really isn’t. Direct associations to people and circumstances are easy to make but in most cases something much less frightening or troubling is at work. And often not about the particular person in the dream, but about what they represent in my life. More often than not certain themes pop up in a variety of ways, so that particularity is speaking to a universal until the universal is resolved.
For example, someone who experiences trauma in the first three years – say abandonment – will find dreams peppered with particular situations and people that leave them feeling abandoned. That’s just Junior at work to keep the person convinced they will always feel abandoned. Not a message, not divine.
Not always nightmares, dreams can also be pleasant but either way I have found it most useful to consider my dreams simply as information only my Junior is capable of bringing to my attention. WWJD? What would Junior do, what would Junior like to do, what is Junior worried about? And now that I’m made aware of Junior’s agenda in the dream, I can attend to it – quiet it, turn my eyes away from this “J” to the other, Jesus. WWJesusD?
Nipping that baby in the bud is what my counselor has helped me do, saying, “You know your Junior is just messing with you – and you now know how Junior feels about xyz, but you are not Junior.”
So, when I awakened this morning with another ‘unworthy’ dream, I dismissed my initial thought that the dream was prompted by the previous few day’s circumstances that had left me feeling so. Instead, I began my own ‘dream work’, hopeful that I might see something different and not allow Junior’s problem with worthiness persist, not allow it to triumph over me.
I set about to get all the information I needed out of the dream to reset the day as my rational adult self, my God-loving and God-loved, self. Dan Piraro’s strip here came to mind, but instead of ‘success’ I was going to give up this unworthy dream, for today.
I had just begun to recollect all the little pieces by remaining in bed with my eyes closed (that is the best way to call up details of a dream) when my phone began beeping with texts. It was early – a friend in a different time zone trying to reach me before boarding a plane. My dream work stopped for the moment. I opened his messages and found several others from a different friend that had come in long after I had gone to bed.
She had had a bad dream. A troubling one she called a nightmare. It had awakened her. She had interpreted the dream as a message – a warning – that she might not be as trusting of the Lord in her particular circumstance as she had thought she was. Her last text before going back to bed said something to the effect that she needed to turn her eyes upward, that at the very least she was to ‘lift her eyes to the Lord.’
I responded to my friend suggesting she be grateful for the dream – to think of it as an exhale – that it didn’t mean that she herself was as anxious as she was portrayed in her dream, that she herself wasn’t responsible for the suffering of others, that the dream wasn’t a divine message from the Lord about her or how she was handling the present circumstance, but about a small part of her that didn’t trust the Lord’s presence in her and in her circumstance. I encouraged her to yes, lift her eyes to the Lord, and to pause, to breathe in, and thank Jesus for allowing her to express her fears through her dream, and for now giving her time to put the nightmare into perspective for this day and the rest to come.
And immediately after sending this message, I turned to today’s readings
And, praise God, here are the first lines of the first reading from the Psalter, Psalm 25:
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my dreams, my Junior, triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.
Yes – to you O Lord I lift my soul – I choose to leave Junior behind. I put my trust – my plans, my prayers, my life, in you.