Dream Interpretations Christian and General: What Do Dreams Mean?
Many people are fascinated and curious about the meaning of their dreams. But what to Christian dream interpretations look like. When it comes to dream interpretations, christian insight and wisdom about one’s inner life are keys that unlock some fascinating doors. As far back as ancient Egypt we know that Joseph had dreams that altered the course of history. Another Joseph, several centuries later, had dreams in which God warned him to move his family to evade an attack that would have killed Jesus as a baby.
There are questions that come up when we begin to consider the meaning of dreams. Are dreams really from God? Always? Ever? If so, how can we know whether or not a dream is from God or simply generated by our own subconscious? What can we learn from modern research of brain wave activity and the sleep-wake cycle? Another important question is: what in particular can make our dream interpretation Christian? The focus of this article is on this last question. In dream interpretation, christian principles can play a significant role to help us gain wisdom about ourselves.
Principle #1: Our Capacity to Dream Reflects the Complexity of Our Being Created in God’s Image.
Sigmund Freud did not invent the unconscious mind or the subconscious mind. He just gave it a new label. The proof that there is much more going on inside our brains than what we are aware of consists of one simple fact: we dream. Dreams are the clearest evidence that there are yearnings, conflicts, fears, and needs that percolate below the surface of our conscious awareness. All sound dream interpretations, Christian or otherwise, are grounded in the knowledge that every human being has this deeper, mysterious side.
So, we are complex creatures and the complexity of our minds stems from God’s design. God made us to reflect some of His own complexity. It’s amazing that our brains have the capacity to spin stories while we do nothing but sleep. God has made each one of us with such elaborate detail that we can feel what the Psalmist felt when he said “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
Principle #2: We Have Been Called Upon to Pursue Wisdom and This Includes Wisdom about the Deeper Parts of Our Being.
The book of Proverbs emphasizes this point in various ways. We are encouraged to seek wisdom to the point of even crying out for it.
My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding…if you seek her as silver… then you will discern… (See Prov 2:1-12).
At the same time God is not stingy about giving us wisdom. He wants us to ask for it and He delights in giving it (Proverbs 8:1, 20, 21; James 1:5). Is it possible that King David was referring to his dreams at night when he said,
I will bless the LORD who has counseled me; Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night .
But what do dreams mean? How can we cultivate wisdom about ourselves so that we capture this strange mental process that takes place while sleep?
Principle #3: Interpreting Dreams is a Skill that Can be Learned and Cultivated in Varying Degrees.
When we dream our subconscious is broadcasting a message to us. Often the message is simply to make us more aware of something we are trying to suppress in the deeper part of our souls. Dreaming is also what the brain does to organize the fragmented memories and feelings that have littered our experience of the previous day.And sometimes…God whispers to us using the hidden microphone of our dreams.
But it usually isn’t a good idea to just jump to that conclusion. Instead, it’s better to begin from a more humble standpoint of simply paying attention: really noticing what is going on inside of us. Dreams are meaningful expressions (in story form) created by our subconscious mind. Some dreams have more meaning than others. At a minimum, a dream puts a yearning, a fear, or an idea on the table for us to discuss with God or to use as a starting place for journaling. Dreams sometimes provide us with a hint – or sometimes shout to us that our minds are chewing on something. Dreams are often the brain’s way of processing the big events in our lives or simply tying up loose ends from the day.
While we are active during the day we have to maintain a some control over our emotions. A certain amount of denial is not only necessary, but beneficial. But the mind seems to keep a list of moments, feelings and thoughts that need some sorting out when the day is done. We sometimes don’t acknowledge what we need to feel and think about seemingly trivial events. In an attempt to place all the puzzle pieces in their respective places, our brain then creates a mix of images and clips similar to a music video.
Principle #4: Interpreting Dreams is Much Like Interpreting a Music Video or a Famous Painting.
In fact, music videos as a genre have much in common with dreams. Disjointed and incomplete story sequences are pasted together to generate a collection of emotions and thoughts within us. Some are more confusing than others. Yet, at the same, time we can usually discern the suggestion of a storyline.
There are two extremes to avoid with dream interpretation. First, we should avoid overly elaborate interpretations that say more about what we would like the dream to mean that the actual meaning of the dream. Second, it simply won’t work to disregard dreams on the basis that they are purely subjective. Yes, interpretation of dreams is subjective, but so is the interpretation of art and music. The important point here is that the subjective aspects of interpretation don’t erase the broad strokes of meaning that stem from the artist’s mind and experience. Additionally, Christian dream interpretations become clear the more we obtain wisdom about our own inner life.
To illustrate this let’s imagine a group of six people standing around a painting at an art museum; they begin to discus the symbols, colors and mood of the painting. If we could eavesdrop, we would probably discover that they did not agree on the intent of the artist and his/her overall meaning of the painting. However, we would likely find them agreeing on the prominent features of the painting. For example, everyone could agree on the mood of the painting: “It’s dark and somber,” one woman says, as the others nod in agreement. They might agree that a knife in the painting suggests violence.
On the other hand, each person in the group might have a different opinion about what the loaf of bread on the table signifies, if anything at all. To resolve their disagreements about the painting, they would need to delve deeper and get more information. This might begin with looking into the background of the artist, i.e. his/her relationships, and culture. Dreams too need to be explored in terms of the background of the facts of our lives.
Interpreting dreams is more an art than a science and I am always suspicious of books that claim that they can tell you the exact meaning of your dreams. Nevertheless, dreams contain important meaning that invites us to wonder. Since interpreting dreams is very subjective and must be done with some humility, we need to think carefully. How then can we interpret our dreams with an awareness of our Maker?
Principle #5: A Structured Approach Can Help Us Consider Possible Interpretation That Otherwise Might Not Occur to Us. Five Steps to Get Started
Here are some steps for a dream interpretation christian principles can apply to:
Step 1. Complete Column 1.
A very simple starting place is to take a sheet of paper, divide it into 2 columns and list everything you remember about the dream, being careful to NOT add any of your thoughts after waking up. This is why writing down everything about the dream immediately after waking is important. There is no interpretation here. This step is like driving to the museum so that you can get into position to see the painting in all its glory.
Step 2. Fill in Column 2.
Make another list of the most prominent facts and observations about your life at this particular time. For example, “just started a new job.” Or, “just had a huge argument with my boyfriend.” Here is it also important to assess the current spiritual issues in your life. Feeling guilty about some vice or habit? Worried that you are in a relationship that is pulling you away from Christ? Worried about money? All these can be included in your list of facts and observations. In my own experience I have found that seasons of high stress cause some of my deepest insecurities to begin to surface inside my dreams.
Step 3. Experiment with Connecting the Dots.
Once you have your two columns, play around with drawing lines between items in different columns. There is nothing exact about this. It is a thinking tool that allows you to think in fresh ways about your dream and what the objects and characters might symbolize in the context of your life.
Step 4. Consider the Setting of Your Dream
Where the dream is set usually contains important information. Remember, it’s your brain that chose to set the dream in a house, in a field or on a boat. Ask yourself, “What meaning could there be in these events with these characters taking place here? Why here in particular?” What kinds of feelings and memories do you associate with such a place?
Step 5. Consider the Characters and What You Associate With Them.
Christian dream interpretations should reflect a close examination of the characters within a particular dream.
Think of it this way. Your mother and your best friend are never in your dreams. People you know that appear in your dreams did not shrink themselves and crawl inside your head! Rather, your brain manufactured a representation of them with a fictitious story line. It might be better to consider each character as an aspect of your own personality finding expression. Why did my brain create this type of character for this dream, given the challenges and feeling I am having currently in my life. Is there someone at the office that never misses a chance to make you feel “less than?” If she appears in your dream, then consider the possibility that she stands for your own insecurity about being good enough for some particular challenge you are currently facing.
Conclusion: Christian Dream Interpretations
In a nutshell, christian dream interpretations, christian truth, and wisdom about ourselves speak with one voice to invite us to ponder the meaning of our dreams, even if we can’t be certain of the correctness of our best interpretation. Dream interpretation is about paying attention. It’s about pausing long enough to lower the fences of our denial. It’s about being honest with ourselves and with God. Sometimes it opens the floodgates to pent-up and powerful feelings that scare us. At a minimum, if we are open to the meaning of our dreams, it can put a lot on the table for us to discuss with the One in whose image we were created.