The Stuff of Dreams
And what they reveal
Dreams are crazy things. In my experience, there seems to be a spiritual side to them as well as a psychological side. On one hand, they are the brain’s method of housecleaning, but they can also reveal our deepest fears that we struggle to admit to ourselves.
When I was a kid, I had nightmares that recurred and intensified each night. A malevolent entity, in the form of something mundane like a stuffed toy, would come increasingly close to me each night in my dreams. It did not look terrifying, but somehow I knew it was. As the thing came closer, the terror grew. I “knew” that if it touched me, something bad would happen. The interesting part of the memory is that I can still feel the terror of 5-year-old me when I think about those times, but I do not remember how they resolved. Our brains like attaching to the negative, of course. Silly brains.
Another set of dreams that plagued me for a long time were the ones of my hometown. I grew up in a small-ish town along Lake Michigan, and in those days, I rode my bike everywhere I needed to go. I’d run errands for my stepmom, go to the library, school, sports, the beach, the houses of family members…I knew the town well and could navigate anywhere.
In the dreams, though, the town would change. They’d start out with something normal, like a thought that I needed to go to my grandma’s house for something. I would set out for her house, and I knew I had to cross the bridge, but the other side of the bridge was different, not the town I knew. I crossed, thinking I was mistaken, but would walk in circles trying to find my way. By the time I was terrified in the dream, I’d wake up.
Along with the town, I would return to high school or college as an adult. It felt like having a do-over, and my adult self was confident I could make it, but ultimately, I would do something or not be able to do something, or something would go horribly wrong, like the biology class full of students who were skeletons. As I think on these now, they feel silly, but in the dream, I felt horror.
Following my real commitment to Jesus, my past often invaded my dreams. In them, temptations to return to an old lifestyle, or people I used to know, would pull me in one direction, but I didn’t want to go.
Then, the scene would morph from something or some people I knew into demons, as if the people and places and situations were infused with them. In retrospect, it felt like the enemy couldn’t fool me anymore, so he dropped the disguise and went after me directly.
Those were the dreams where I fought the enemy by shouting, “I BELONG TO JESUS!!!”
In the dreams, the enemy kept coming for me, telling lies, telling me I could never really change. But I stood firm and used the Word as the Sword of the Spirit.
“I am brand new in Jesus, there is no condemnation in Christ, He has washed me of my sin, I am the daughter of Christ, I BELONG TO JESUS!”
I’d shout it over and over and eventually, the enemy would disappear. I’ve had these several times and I do not think they will ever go away. But I know I’m ready. When I have those dreams, my husband tells me he can hear me in my sleep, that I’m mumbling something or crying out. Those are the spiritual dreams.
These dreams point out my weaknesses and strongholds. The ones where I feel lost in town or at school have not occurred in years. I think it is partially because I know who I am now. I may not always understand or know or do what God calls me to do, but I know who I am.
The dreams where the enemy tries to tempt me back to my old life are spiritual battles. If he can’t get to me in my waking life, he’ll attack my dreams. There was a time in my life where I idolized dreams and thought I could do “magic” in my dreams, or see a past life or something. What a crock! Anyway, he tempts me back there, but I want nothing of it. The people I used to know, the partying, the drinking and drugs and sex, the spiritualism and rituals…I have no need of them, nor do I even want them a little bit.
That area of temptation will not work because Jesus’s place in my heart is solid and I know that despite all my failings, I belong to Him. And so I stand firm on that in the waking world and in my dreams.
My husband has had dreams as well, and some of them are from God. His nightmares tend to contain themes where he is unable to protect the ones he loves. But others feel different, like God is speaking to him. As a result of several of those, we made moves and they turned out to be positive for a time.
He describes the messages from God as undeniable, like he can’t shake the dream and he knows in his soul they came from God. His pastor in his home town told him once that God gives dreams to edify or build up or to warn, but He will not leave you feeling afraid. So when he dreams those powerful ones, we talk about them and pray about them to see if they are messages or just fear-based.
There is no fear in love and God is love, therefore, God will not lead us in fear.
Joyce Meyer’s book, “Battlefield of the Mind,” is a great one because it talks about how the enemy uses our thoughts against us.
People think they cannot control their thoughts, but it is not true.
The entire field of psychology and the profession of therapy is based on cognitive-behavioral interventions which is essentially a process of changing one’s thoughts. Almost every evidence-based therapeutic intervention includes some element of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in it.
As Romans 12:2 says,
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…”
Therefore, the premise behind psychotherapy comes from God, but the beauty of it is when you let God transform your mind instead of trying to do it yourself, it sticks.
A challenge to many CBT interventions that always comes up in the research is how effective is it long-term? People experience lapses, and especially for people with PTSD or substance use disorders, lapses are expected. However, in all my years of providing therapy, those who clung to Jesus tended not to lapse.
The testimonies of people who kick a substance habit immediately because they gave themselves to Jesus — those are real and it’s real because Jesus is the ultimate healer. When he becomes the center of your thoughts, the rest becomes like dust.
That’s why now, when I see commercials on TV about people with mental health issues, I tell the TV people that they need Jesus. If people turned to Jesus, there might not be the need for therapists. In fact, I feel like my work as a therapist in the latter years was more about explaining to people that Jesus is the answer to their problems, not a pill or talking to a stranger for one hour a week. Jesus is with us all the time. All we have to do is turn to him, admit we cannot do it ourselves, and let him take over.
The mind is indeed a battlefield, and the enemy wants nothing more than to convince people that they cannot change their thoughts or their feelings.
Doubling down on that premise, the enemy wants us to feel like we cannot help that our thoughts and feelings inspire poor choices and bad behavior.
But that is a lie.
We must counter the lie with the Truth and the Truth is that God made us, God loves us, God can transform us, God is what we need, we cannot do this world on our own, but with Him, we can do anything.
We will suffer, yes, but that suffering will strengthen us and draw us closer to the One who is with us in the suffering.
We live in the world, but we are not of it. We are here temporarily until our mission is complete and then God will call us home. To Him.
In the meantime, we need to reach for Him because it is through His strength that we fight the enemy and all his sneaky attacks, not ours.
He made us to need Him, so lean into Him…He’s got you.
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