Nightmares have plagued me from early childhood. I remember sleeping on the floor of my parents’ bedroom after seeing the 1986 movie, The Fly. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw giant bug eyes staring at me. I also glimpsed a few scenes from Night of the Living Dead, the 1968 version, although I was supposed to be in bed already. For weeks afterwards, I dreamed of creatures with bloody mouths and flowing, white robes. Creepy stuff for a kid.
Then there was the episode of America’s Most Wanted I watched late one evening with my brothers. One teenager knifed another one. That scene spurred me to sleep with a pillow in my back at night, in case someone wanted to knife me in my sleep. They would only hit the feathers! Haha—I had fooled them!
But that didn’t quiet the bad dreams.
Tragedies triggered more night terrors. After the OKC bombing in 1995, I prayed every night that our house wouldn’t also be bombed. In the weeks following 9/11/2001, (which was also my 17th birthday), I dreamed of burning buildings and fallen firefighters.
Church theology added more turmoil to my mind. I listened to countless sermons on hell, demons, and a lake of fire. I read Dante, Jonathan Edwards, and Al Lacy. The graphic portraits painted on my psyche of the fate of the lost induced many a terrifying night. Despite my knowledge of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, my young mind simply didn’t know how to process this fear. To further confuse and torture my soul, every time I lost sight of my mom in a grocery store, I thought the rapture had happened and I had been “left behind.” I worried that I hadn’t said the right words in my prayer for salvation, and God had ignored me. It was isolating.
All these events, from the movies I watched to the sermons I listened to, introduced me to the darkness within me. Shadows lurk in all of us. They manifest themselves in different ways, but they are still are part of our souls. The shadows rob us of joy, steal our sleep, and refuse to go away on their own. They can either shape us or consume us. The nightmares can draw us closer to God, or alienate us further from Him. The choice is ours.
Author and Franciscan monk, Father Richard Rohr, in his book, “Falling Upwards”, mentions a process called “Shadow Work.” This work involves facing our demons, understanding our struggles, and allowing grace to cover our shortcomings. When we deny that we need to do “shadow work”, we are fooling ourselves. Yet, if we begin to engage in the light, we will see the truth. Paul wrestled in blindness for 3 days before he was finally baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers wrote, “Song birds are taught to sing in the dark, so we are placed in the shadow of God’s hand that we may learn to hear Him.” Charlotte Bronte’s character Jane Eyre tells her art pupil, “The shadows are just as important as the light.” I state the obvious by saying, “Facing our darkness is not easy.”
If it was as simple as keeping a nightlight on, everyone would do it. We need grace and love and support. Did not King Solomon say, “Love covers a multitude of sins”? Did not Christ Himself proclaim that “what is whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops”?
It’s time we exposed the nightmares to the light of day.
Time has passed since the visions of scientist with a fly head disturbed me. My darkness has evolved. Different demons plague me. Anxiety, depression, financial instability, low self-esteem, fears for my child—these are the things that keep me up at night now. My fears are more vivid, more personal, more daunting. But when I acknowledge that I am flawed and needy, that’s when God moves in. When I understand that I cannot change on my own, that’s when grace does its powerful work.
Recently, my brother Michael shared with me that Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001. On the surface, this seems insane. Were they asking for more addictions? Wouldn’t the drug use skyrocket? Remarkably, drug overdoses actually decreased. When drugs weren’t punishable by law, people stopped hiding. Their friends and family knew their addictions and were able to help them because the secrets were made known.
What if we honestly spoke of our pain? What if we admitted we don’t have it altogether? What if we knew we would meet with love rather than condemnation as we shared our struggles? What if we confronted our nightmares?
What if we didn’t have to fight solo?
Great change could happen.
The darkness would lose its power.
We could break free from our nightmares.
When I prepare to sleep, I read or quote the Psalms. This practice began in my teens. I particularly love Psalm 91, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty. When anxiety attacks me in the middle of the day, I reach out in prayer and for my husband. When shame hits me at my job, I count my blessings: work that pays the bills, a husband who loves me, a healthy child, a good church, a safe place to live, hope of Heaven, etc. When self doubt and despair plague me, I cry out to Jesus, sometimes with words. I also see a counselor, keep a journal, and exercise for a daily dose of endorphins. I seek to be honest with my shortcomings with my community of family and friends. I try not to isolate myself anymore. I look for God to rescue me at all times. These are my weapons of choice.
Your battle will look different from mine. St. James wrote, “We all struggle in many ways.” I can relate to you how I’m fighting and the weapons I’m using, and encourage you to be honest. But I cannot do the work for you, or give you the weapons you need. You must engage as well, dear Reader. (Yes, I did just lapse into an 18th century, British author tone. Deal with it.)
Don’t grant the darkness any more power than it already has. Know that Christ has defeated all sin, death, and shadows. You are not alone. He is right there, interceding for you and fighting the demons with you. Let Him in. He wants to do the work with you.
When my son, Rafa, cries out at bedtime, I pick him up and hold him close. I whisper over and over, “I got you. I got you. I got you.” He always calms at my voice.
Jesus said, “I am with you always.” He’s got you. His help is available. His light is reaching for you. Grace, that inexpressible gift, will be poured over you.
I want this for you. I want this for me.
May we experience peace in all its fullness.
May we live in the abundant life that Jesus promised.
May we know, intensely and personally, that light triumphs over darkness.
I leave you with this quote:
”Each time we put our hand in His and go on through life together, with Him, we may ask Him to lead us on til our last day on this earth comes. We cannot go alone—not one step—but, Lord, take me with You wherever You go. We can ask Him to let us rest at His feet. Isn’t that wonderful?”
Yes, Corrie ten Boom, it is wonderful.
Sleep well tonight, friends.