Have you ever awakened from a vivid dream that seemed, after you were conscious, to be totally ridiculous? As I was growing up, I often dreamed that I was flying, an exhilarating experience swooping up and over treetops and soaring high above the clouds with the birds. I wish I could lasso that dream again! Sometimes I dreamed that after tying up snakes they grew legs through their ropes and ran after me! As I grew older, I began to have that awkward dream in which you find yourself naked in a crowd.
In my teenage years my dreams included sexual fantasies that embarrassed me upon waking up. Usually they included no one I knew. Only once do I remember a truly frightening dream. Our family was being chased by a crazed madman with a knife through endless rose gardens and mazes of a huge mansion. I woke up right after I had stabbed him to death. I was out of breath and wet with perspiration.
One of my most memorable and revealing dreams occurred as I was sinking into major depression. I was on a high suspension bridge over a murky river at the bottom of a rocky gorge. The cold water was foaming and churning far below. Many people were on the bridge with me, all members of the church I was pastoring at the time. One young woman ran to the edge, climbed over the railing and jumped, plunging like a rock. Most of those on the bridge rushed over to me, calling out that I should to jump in after her to save her. I knew that my jumping could not help her, and probably would be suicidal. Even so, after a moment of agonizing indecision, I jumped. I woke up as I was falling.
Today my dreams tend to end in frustration: e.g., I am ready to officiate at a funeral and look in the coffin only to discover that I have no idea who the person is; or I open my Bible to preach in front of a large crowd and my notes are completely blank. For several months last year I had severely troubling dreams which left me feeling hopeless and lost.
Where do dreams come from and what do they mean?
The Bible sometimes describes the purpose of dreams as the foretelling of some future event, such as Pharaoh’s dreams that predicted seven years of famine. Daniel was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his fantastic dream which explained the future downfall of his Kingdom and the eventual rise of the Kingdom of God. Joseph, Mary’s husband, was directed specifically through dreams both before and after his marriage.
Modern psychology has opened doors to dream interpretation. It seems that our subconscious mind uses sleep to process our experiences and emotions. Many dreams are shared by people of all nations and generations: they include falling, flying, being chased, taking a test for which we’re not prepared, and that dream about being naked. Generally, these dreams are easily understood, as they express feelings common to humankind. Normal dreams are forgettable, often nonsensical, and of little consequence. However, dreams can be complex and difficult to understand. Dreams can also be frightening or bothersome, leaving you troubled and fretful. Traumatic experiences often replay over and over in dreams, further exhausting us. War experiences, abuse, deprivation—all of these slog their way through our dreams. And dreams occasionally reflect darker events that reflect severe emotional imbalance, psychosis, or even demon possession.
The Elephant Whisperer
John, a pastor friend of ours, said recently that our emotions are like an elephant and we are the rider/handler, or mahout. The rider has the implements of control, yet sits in a precarious position because the elephant is much stronger. Most mahouts today live in India and Thailand. A recent study of these mahouts divulged that most of them were raised with the elephants they handle, and all of them claimed a deep love for their animals. Yet an overwhelming 91.7% have been attacked/injured by their elephant. Among the mahouts who have been attacked by an elephant, 56.7% were attacked more than three times and remaining 35% were attacked one or two times. According to the nature of injuries sustained, 45% of the respondents received major injuries, 26.7% sustained minor injuries, and the remaining 20% of them were grievously injured with a resultant handicap.
Our emotions are like those elephants. We are familiar with them since they’ve been around as long as we can remember. Yet they can catch us off guard, wound us, or even provoke despair and sadness. Dreams move like shadows, nighttime waves on an ocean shore, difficult to understand because of the darkness of the subconscious. They are unpredictable reflections of our elephants/emotions but often reveal what we cannot see in our waking moments. Dreams are neither right nor wrong. They rise in our deepest psyche where our truest personality resides. Can their meanings be harnessed? Is it possible to tame their frightening episodes or banish their lusty images?
A horse or dog whisperer is someone who has an almost mysterious ability to communicate with horses or dogs. They can communicate on equine or canine levels to bring difficult animals under control and to rehabilitate animals that seem beyond help. Jesus is our elephant whisperer. He not only can tame our emotions but he brings sense out of them and orders them into life-giving patterns. Furthermore, Jesus moves effortlessly through our subconscious world and clearly sees the sources and meanings of our dreams. He can help us control them, banish them, and learn from them.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2 that because of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the very thoughts of God. In chapters 14-16 of his gospel, John explains the work and purposes of the Holy Spirit: God’s constant companionship, his desire to open our hearts and minds to God’s truth, and his superhuman ability to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Paul teaches that those whose lives are under the control of the Holy Spirit—our Elephant Whisperer—will enjoy love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22-23).
But back to dreams…
Remember my disturbing dream of the bridge and the jumper? I was led to a godly counselor who helped me understand that this dream revealed that I had the Messiah Complex: I was operating with the unconscious belief that I was personally responsible for the decisions and actions of my church members. If they did well, I rejoiced. If they made bad choices, I took the blame. The counselor helped me see how ridiculous this was, and I, in turn, have been able to better manage my life. Depression was the end result of this complex, and now I lead a more normal life with the help of medication.
At bedtime I ask God specifically to control my dreams. That children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I ask the Lord my soul to keep….” is a good idea. God revealed to me that I should ask Karon and my children to pray with me to help control my severely troubling dreams that oppressed me for several weeks. I also have learned to wake myself up if a dream begins going toward that bad ending.
I said earlier that dreams are neither right nor wrong. But they can express horrible emotions or gratuitous sexual fantasies that feed the evil tendencies we all find within us. In that same nighttime prayer—or perhaps throughout the night—ask God to remove all that is profane from your dreams. (For ideas, read Galatians 5:16-21).
How about your dreams? Perhaps the Elephant Whisperer will open a window for you into this mysterious world.
 Meaning of dreams: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dreamscloud/meaning-of-dreams_b_4504512.html
David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.