Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Interpreting Dreams

How did you sleep last night? Did you have any dreams?

These two questions follow each other in our house. Every morning, when our children wake up, I ask them in quick succession. It’s as if they go together. They always went together in the house in which I grew up. My mother was always interested in what I had dreamed about—as if my dreams might reveal something significant about me or my engagement with the world. She got me in the habit of paying attention to my dreams, and I suppose I hope I give my children the same gift.

As I blogged about, I recently returned from a trip to Africa. Part of that trip took me to Ghana, where the need for a malaria prophylaxis is necessary. When I met with a local doctor, he indicated that I had a choice of prescriptions. Although the chloroquines wouldn’t work, that still left me a few options. But I knew which drug I wanted before I even walked in. “May I have the Mefloquine, please?”

My first trip to Africa was in 1999-2000. My family physician back then suggested I take Mefloquine. He remarked that it can give people strange dreams. During the month I was in Zimbabwe, I had some whoppers. I remember waking up unsure whether I was still dreaming. Many of the dreams were unremarkable except for their clarity—like everyday life was following me into my sleep. It was a fascinating and not-un-enjoyable experience. Since then, I’ve always asked for the malaria pills that can give you strange dreams. Apparently, they come with a risk of psychosis and suicide, but, so far, I’ve stayed pretty healthy.

With this latest round of anti-malaria medicine, I’ve had some vivid dreams. Most of them have been normal, but they’ve been easy to remember. Over and over, I’ve found myself sitting in a bible study or at the dinner table, suddenly remembering a dream I had. “Oh!” I exclaim, “That reminds me of a dream I had last night…” I’m not sure people are as excited as my mother was to hear about them, but there’s something about the confluence of a dream and real life that begs sharing.

In this Sunday’s Track Two OT Lesson, Jeremiah writes, “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back?” That has me wondering. How do you know when a dream is a gift from God? How do you know whether there is a prophet’s message contained in your night vision? Sometimes a dream is just a dream. And sometimes it’s meant for holy interpretation.

Yesterday in a bible study on 1 Corinthians 13-14, we came to the issue of prophecy. “What makes a prophecy a prophecy?” someone asked. That’s a good question. When is my insight a comment from the Lord, and when it is just me being me? When should you pay attention to a dream for its Holy-Spirit origination, and when should you write it off as medication-induced? Jeremiah says, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully.” I think that means we share our dreams but let others figure out what they mean.


“What has straw in common with wheat?” the prophet asks. I think that means we’re supposed to be able to tell. But I think that means we need each other to figure it out. I speak what I’ve seen, and together we discern whether it is holy. Sometimes a dream is just a dream. And sometimes God speaks through them. The difference comes in the sharing. I let go of the ownership of my dream, and, if you pick it up and run with it, maybe there’s something to it. If you shrug your shoulders and move on, so be it. 

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