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For many years, I had a weird, recurring dream. It didn’t happen all the time, but enough to catch my attention, and it always followed the same script.
I started in my grandmother’s closet and some how found a hidden door among the clutter. Once through that door, I wound up in a hallway filled with lots of clutter, too, but I was no longer in my grandmother’s home.
Eventually, the hallway opened onto an underground city. It had streets, but they were empty. There were homes, but no people in them, only dim lights.
I walked along the street for a while until something compelled me to go up the stairs into a specific house, which turned out to be a nicely furnished, but small apartment. There was a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The lights were on, but there wasn’t at television or radio – and certainly no evidence of other people living there.
The apartment was unoccupied, but cozy. I could hear muffled voices nearby, but couldn’t see anyone. Somehow, I sensed the apartment was either mine or was available for me to use.
The details of the apartment were vivid and the place looked familiar. Looking back, I wondered if it was similar to the apartment my father lived in shortly after my parents separated when I was 8 years old.
But the outside was always dark and eerily quiet.
Once I arrived at the apartment, I would be startled awake a short time later. However, the imagery of the dream remained in my memory. So, the next time I had the same dream months or even years later, everything was familiar.
The fact that I remembered the dream at all fascinated me because most dreams simply disappear from my memory within a few moments of waking up.
Asking for interpretation
One day, long after I had become a Christian, I experienced it again remembered enough about the dream the next day to ask God what it meant. I don’t do that for every dream I have, but this one was different. It kept repeating itself and the details were surprisingly vivid and very lifelike.
I heard my spirit say, “That’s your life.”
What?!? I didn’t live in an apartment and I certainly didn’t live underground. But the Holy Spirit kept speaking to me.
My grandmother’s closet is where I would find old catalogs published by companies like Sears, JC Penney and Montgomery Ward. As a young boy of 10 or 11, I would flip through those pages looking at images of women and girls wearing underwear and swimming suits.
What I found in that closet became a gateway to a much, much bigger problem – pornography – which I discovered a few days after my 12th birthday when a neighbor boy showed me a Playboy magazine.
The Holy Spirit told me the clutter I found around me were the hurts and pain I had experienced in life. Rather than let them go and move on, I had carefully boxed up the memories and stored them in the deep recesses of my mind. There were a lot of boxes.
In addition to storing pain in my dream, I had also used boxes in real life to hide pornographic magazines. In fact, I had accumulated more than 1,400 of them before my wife discovered my secret.
She insisted I throw them out, which I was happy to do, especially after discovering the virtual buffet of lust which online porn provided.
Then, the Holy Spirit explained what the underground city meant.
The dream reflected my life
When the cluttered hallway opened onto a vacant street, I had entered a dark, underground world of lust. It was empty because everyone was inside their homes, some with lights on and many with lights off. But, nobody was interacting with anyone else.
That’s what online porn was like in the early days of internet newsgroups and websites. People would simply look at images of naked people without even talking to another person.
They could spend hours doing that. I know I could, and I spoke with other men who admitted it, too.
In my dream, there were no televisions or radios because people were focused intently upon their secret habits, in which they consumed porn in isolation and silence.
The Holy Spirit explained the apartment really was my life. I had sequestered myself from everyone and everything. I was just going through the motions of life until I could get back to my room, turn out the lights and bask in my secret, dark, underground world.
Pornography had so fully isolated me from reality and the rest of the world that I didn’t need anything other than a kitchen to get food, a bathroom and a bedroom.
There was no joy in my life. No laughter. No hope. Only darkness and a feeling of always being alone.
I was very appreciative of what the Holy Spirit did for me in interpreting that dream in answer to my prayer about the meaning of that imaginary life. With that knowledge, I was able to unpack the boxes of pain, hurts and regrets which I had carefully preserved.
I could open the boxes and give God – specifically Jesus – permission to come into my life to process the memories and experiences in light of their reality and true impact on my life. He brought healing to the pain and light to the darkness.
John Eldredge, one of my all-time favorite authors, refers to that process as “redemptive remembering.” We remember the pain, and then invite Jesus to enter our story and provide proper interpretation, which is often vastly different from the way Satan interprets our experiences for us.
Satan tells a little 8-year-old boy that he is so unlovable that not even his parents want to live with him. As a teenager, Satan tells that same boy he is so broken that nobody even wants to be his friend, let alone go on a date.
So, the boy turns to porn as a way of medicating that pain in a secret world where the models become friends and desire to spend time with him.
Later, Satan tells the man he is so undesirable that not even his wife can stand looking at him, much less spend any time with him. When his daughters leave home to start lives of their own, Satan tells the man there is no longer any purpose to his life.
He remains unneeded, unloved, unwanted and completely alone because he is too perverted, too dirty and too sinful that even God gave up on him.
However, Jesus interprets all that to tell the boy, who became an adult, that what happened was not what God originally planned for his life. Jesus tells the adult that he was created for a purpose and he plays a critical role in an endless battle between good and evil.
Jesus reassures that the man he is valuable, loved, desirable, wanted, needed and necessary. God has not given up on him and isn’t standing ready to punish every misbehavior in some twisted game of “gotcha.” In fact, Jesus tells the man he is forgiven and promises to cleanse him for all his mistakes and stinking thinking.
Jesus promises he’ll never leave the man and ensures there is a special place for him in heaven where God will restore all that was stolen from him. Through that type of redemptive remembering, everything changes.
Dreams really do matter because they are ways for God to get our attention and convey important messages when our minds and mouths are silent in sleep. If we ask, he’ll tell us what they mean.