Where is the line between what’s real and what’s just the wispy figment of dreams?
For years, I’ve dreamed about meeting a woman and a little girl at an underground train station. One of them — the woman, I believe — is wearing a solid red coat. Her daughter’s coat is either black or gray. They’re meeting me here, but I’ve never known why.
In the last week, I’ve dreamed about that station twice, for the first time in a long time. But there was something entirely different this time. In the dream, I was in my own house — not the modest house where I live now, but a grander house — and I heard a woman’s voice call to me from behind a wall.
I reached out with my hands and broke through the wall — ridiculous, of course — and discovered a secret stone stairway that led to a lower level. When I followed the stairs, I came out on a giant abandoned train platform. It was the same one from my old dreams.
This train station I’d seen for years was hidden under my own home. And the woman was there, too.
I constantly experience a fierce inner battle between faith and fear.
I want to follow the truth as my heart allows me to see it. I want to follow what seems to be the voice of my Creator to be what I was put on this Earth to do and be. But following that voice requires me to ignore the voices of my culture. It requires me to live in what others consider to be a dream world. It requires turning my back on what most people consider “the real world.”
I suspect this is true for most people who feel called by some still small voice to experience lives which are radically different from what the conventional wisdom of their cultures demand of them.
But something in me tells me that the images I see in my inner world are more real than the reality which I share with other people. When I listen to that inner voice — and I believe in things I can’t see or explain or prove — I feel an absolute conviction about where I’m going.
When I listen to other people — those who are “realistic” and “practical” — the faith vanishes like shattering glass and it’s replaced in a flash with deep fear of failure and humiliation and shame.
I can’t follow both paths. If I’m to follow the path of faith, I have to believe and set aside the voices which tell me to follow the world’s path.
And if I can’t have faith, the fear will always return and drag me away from this inner world of spirit which seems more real than anything else.
I can’t have both, because faith and fear are opposites.
As I walked down the stone steps in my dream to this hidden train station, my conscious mind knew what this represented. I’ve always known that finding new parts of my own house in dreams means uncovering hidden parts of myself. This is a widely accepted interpretation in dream psychology — and it felt true here.
For the first time, I was discovering that this scene I had experienced in past dreams wasn’t just some random place. This place was a part of my own psyche. I wasn’t sure what it represented, but it was a revelation that this meeting place has always been a hidden part of myself.
The woman was on the platform below, but she wasn’t here to stay — not yet. She had to come tell me that she was coming again. I’m honestly not certain who she was. I thought I knew at one point in the past, but maybe that was just wishful thinking. I’m not sure.
All I know is that this was a joyous meeting that had to be brief and secret. She was here to tell me that she was coming. She could stay only a few minutes right now, but they were precious minutes that meant everything to me. She needed me to know she was coming — and there was something I had to do to be prepared for us to meet again.
The meeting wasn’t filled with a lot of explanation, at least not that I can remember. It was mostly just the emotional relief and the emotional high of finally settling what needed to be done. It was about exhilaration and joy and relief and happiness all rolled into one scene.
I dreamed bits and pieces of this on a couple of different recent nights.
That reality feels more solid than everything I’ve physically done today. It feels more real than the time I spent at a birthday party this afternoon with 30 people. She felt more real than any of the people there. It felt more real than the other places I visited later in the day. It felt more real than anything else in my life.
Everything about that world represents following something higher and nobler and more important than the mundane world where I live — and waste my life — most of the time.
And something in me says I have to choose between the two.
In the New Testament book of Hebrews, there is a verse which electrified me when I discovered it back when I was in high school. It says — in the translation which I memorized at the time — “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.”
That verse astonished me. Then I found various passages of the Gospels which quote Jesus teaching about the power of belief. For instance, I’ve never found any way to interpret what Jesus said in Mark 11:22-24 which didn’t confirm the verse in Hebrews.
Here’s that passage:
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.'”
As a Christian and as a rational person, I have two choices here. Jesus was either telling the truth — meaning I can count on this in faith — or else Jesus was lying and there’s no sense in believing anything he said.
My heart has always told me that he meant what he said — and that he spoke truth — but my head is so influenced by a material world where everyone expects me to be “practical” that I have ignored this power which he says is reality.
My faith and my fear constantly collide. The people around me don’t want me to act in faith. The culture around me says that I have to do things the world’s way — even if I pretend to believe in the power of Jesus — in order to be practical and do things the reasonable way.
I just know that the world of my dreams — the world where this woman is coming back to meet me at this train station and the world where I create what I was born to make — puts me on a path which doesn’t look realistic to the pragmatic world around me.
I just know that when I look at the things I need to accomplish — in cold, hard terms — it seems impossible and it seems that I need to let my fear drive me to make compromises. When I think that way, I want to set aside what I know is true in order to build a life that others would approve of.
When I’m able to live inside that dream world — not just the woman and the train platform, but all the things which seem to be my purpose — it feels more real than anything else. And I feel like the most powerful person on the planet when I’m able to live inside that faith and rock-solid belief. (I recently talked about the things that are becoming more clear as the themes I need to explore in the message I have to “preach.”)
I can’t live in the fear and also live in the faith. I can’t live in the faith and say, “Well, I’ll still do this other thing, just in case this is all a lie.”
Faith is about landing on a foreign shore to invade a powerful adversary and then burning the ships which brought you, cutting off the path of retreat.
That is the life I have to choose. I know that. But the fear — from the culture and the well-meaning people around me — is still powerful.
I want to walk back down those steps in my psyche and be there to greet this woman when she returns. I want to do great things with her, whoever she is. I want to live a life of faith that leads to the places I need to be.
I need the faith to live in that place — and I need the right woman with the faith to live there with me — but my faith is weak and I’m prone to fear.
I believe I know which vision is real and which is an illusion. But if I keep running back to listen to my fears, I will never have the faith to be certain of the things I cannot yet see.
My flesh is full of fear, but my spirit yearns to live in the bright light of faith and conviction.
Note: The photo above is actually of an abandoned underground subway platform in New York City. I’ve never found a picture that looks exactly like the one I’ve seen in my dreams.