Dealing with Nightmares

It’s always a joy when my girls decide its time to ‘do some theology.’ Last night at the dinner table we began to discuss the meaning of our dreams. My eldest offered a theory that these were unsifted thoughts in the backs of our minds that came out under cover of night. Egads, has she been reading Freud?

After the kids indulged their daddy’s thumbnail sketch of Freud’s theory of the unconscious (structured like a language as I explained!), we laughed a bit about our nightmares. Alligators, kidnappings, and worse, even the three year old has nightmares, of big foxes who won’t let him out of his room!

Snuggles and stories ensued, and the old Bob Dylan line came to mind, ‘Those dreams are only in your head.’ But the truth is, that’s precisely the problem. Many of us have recurring dreams, or nightmares, ones that cling to us in the early waking hours and can haunt us throughout the day. We wake up feeling ‘blue’ sometimes, not even aware of the power a forgotten dream is having on us.

The early church knew of this dangerous power of dreams, Augustine warning us that dreams can be of God (as in Daniel or Jacob’s ladder), but also of the devil. He even thought that nightmares were proof that hell existed, and that it would be like a nightmare from which we never awake.

Thanks Augustine! In any case, because our sleeping hours make us vulnerable to unbidden thoughts, some of which can do us serious harm, the desert monks committed themselves to daily prayer. Compline, right before bed, has prayers for a peaceful night’s rest, a version of which I always do with the kids,

And morning prayer begins with a turning toward God and a thanksgiving for the new day. The monks knew these prayers to be therapeutic, in that they are a deliberate effort to turn our minds, which may have been assaulted by dark thoughts the night before, back toward the loving grace of God. “New every morning, is thy love,” as the wonderful John Keble hymn for morning has us sing. That’s a particularly good way to begin the day, in song.

Resolve: Remembering that my mind is vulnerable to thoughts I do not control or even want, I will turn it each day to daily prayer. Even if it is only the briefest of prayers when I first wake and when I finally fall asleep, I will strive to turn my mind back to God throughout the day, trusting the mind of Christ promised to me in my baptism.

One Response to “Dealing with Nightmares”

  1. Eliza Says:

    haha perhaps I won’t read Amos the Story of Mr. Tod before bed anymore (even if it is requested) 🙂


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