What Do Our Dreams Mean?

In 1990, my mom was living in China. She came over as a foreign exchange student, but her main purpose was to share the gospel, although missionaries were illegal in China. While she was there, my mom was somewhat of a legend, with her beautiful long blonde hair and pale skin. People would often stop her and crowd around her just to touch her hair. But one of the strangest things that ever happened to her revolved around a dream. There was a Chinese girl who traveled for many hours by train to Beijing, where my mom was studying. The girl was looking for encouragement in her faith, and told my mom that she had a dream in which God told her there was a believer in the city that she should seek out. This was a bizarre and powerful experience, as no one in China knew that my mom was a Christian. She wondered at the way that God works—even in the modern day—through dreams.

Dreams are a powerful component of humanity. They prove that humans were created with great complexity. I believe that this complexity manifests itself in dreams as our souls speaking to us when our conscious thoughts can’t. Of course, it’s easy to throw away that theory with the proof that some of our dreams certainly mean nothing, such as one of my recurring dreams in which Jennifer Aniston and I trade bodies and I star in an episode of Friends. However, I invite you to consider the possibility that our dreams might just mean more than we think they do.

While we sit here trying to dissect the dreams we do remember, it’s interesting to note that those are only a small percentage of the dreams we actually have. We all have around five dream episodes a night, each lasting from about 15 to 40 minutes. Ever wonder why some dreams stick in our minds, while others don’t? So do I, and I’m sorry to report that I don’t have the answer. It’s bizarre to me that my first childhood memory was a dream. When I was little I read the Frog and Toad books all the time, and in my dream, Frog and Toad were getting married and I was their flower girl. I accidentally tripped and spilled my basket of petals and everyone stopped and stared at me. Toad (who was the bride) told me that I needed to leave and I ran out crying. I was about three years old at the time. I can’t remember my third birthday party, but I can remember that dream. Why?

Our dreams can tell us the truth. When we are asleep, our walls are down and our subconscious is allowed to think and act freely. This is when our souls can talk. Dreams are very indicative of our emotions. We’ve all had those pre-test or pre-performance nightmares in which we show up late or the door is locked or we forget a pencil, or the test is on a different subject than the one we studied, or we forget our lines in the play, or we get booed off the stage. These dreams are the release of things we are feeling and needed to express. Does this predict the future? Absolutely not. Does it give us an indication of our emotions? Absolutely.

Some dreams are certainly caused by stress, and others by trauma. These things can cause both nightmares and night terrors, which are very different things. Night terrors are experienced as feelings and not dreams, so when you wake up, you don’t remember what you dreamed about and can’t understand why you are feeling sad, terrified, or upset. On the other hand, nightmares usually wake you, and are most commonly experienced in the early morning hours. There are common nightmares that much of humanity faces, such as running from danger, being unprepared for an exam or important meeting, being late to something, being naked in public, or falling from a great height. I have certainly had all of these dreams, the most notable being a nightmare in which I had to get to my math exam but my boyfriend wouldn’t drive me home from Walmart because he wanted to buy all of the donuts in the store. It was very stressful, believe me.

Have you ever had a recurring dream? Why do we have these? Usually, recurring dreams or nightmares reveal that there is an issue in your life that you have not acknowledged. These dreams are often the way your subconscious processes a past trauma, future fear, or present dilemma. When I was in high school I used to dream about my friends all turning against me and having red demon eyes. I later realized I was insecure about my friendships. Since then, I haven’t had those dreams. I used to dream all the time about my piano floating in the ocean and me struggling to reach it, but never being able to swim far enough to touch it. Honestly, I have no idea what that one meant.

Does God speak to us in our dreams? Of course, this is a debatable topic. It’s one that I’ve personally struggled with because it can seem hokey at times. There is such a thing as reading too much into your dreams. You shouldn’t go out and buy a Porsche because you had a dream in which you owned one. However, God spoke to his chosen ones through their dreams all throughout the Bible. God sent his promises to Abraham and Jacob through dreams (Genesis 15, 20, 28). Joseph (you know, the one with the amazing technicolor dreamcoat) is one of the most famous dreamers in the Bible. God told him that his brothers would bow down to him in respect, and eventually Joseph became a dream interpreter for the Pharaoh (Genesis 37-41). Mary, mother of Jesus, was told in a vision by an angel that she would conceive and bear God’s son (Luke 1). God gave guidance to another Joseph, Mary’s husband, through a dream, telling Joseph to not break off his engagement with her, despite her perceived unfaithfulness. Later, he told Joseph to take his family to Egypt to flee from Herod (Matthew 1, 2). And finally, God gave warnings through dreams in the Bible, most notably warning the wise men to take another route home to avoid Herod's death sentence, after visiting baby Jesus (Matthew 2).

So back to the title of the article: What do our dreams mean? Honestly, most of the time, I have no idea. Why do I have back-to-back dreams that I vividly remember for two weeks straight and then not remember a single one for months? Maybe we’ll never know (at least I probably won’t). However, next time you wake up from a nightmare, keep in mind that it could be your soul trying to tell you something important. Or it could be a result of that weird fish you ate the day before.