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Agree With Thine Adversary
Seldom had I seen a more desperate situation. We were talking in Tom's bedroom. Tom was flat on his back in bed; I was sitting in a chair beside him. It was only the middle of the afternoon but Tom looked tired and depressed. Hesitantly, piece by piece, he told me his story. Tom had been sick as a child and for many years he had been forced to keep to his bed. In time he had outgrown his childhood illnesses, and as a man he was vigorous and powerful. But now he was once again struck down with a disease that, if not arrested, would bring death within months, perhaps a year at the most. The only cure known to modern medicine was rest, rest, and more rest, and the support of a few drugs.
It was all very well to rest, Tom told me, but how could he possibly rest all the time? He was the sole means of support of his wife and children. In his job he was paid only when he worked. There was no set salary, no unemployment insurance, no sick leave. So how could he afford to rest?
I listened carefully, trying to put myself into his position. But what could I say? Anything I might utter about the goodness or love of God, or God's concern for him, would only sound like so many platitudes; it would only be cruel. Tom was up against some bitter facts. This was not the place for a sermon. Of course, we did talk some of God; it was Tom himself who introduced the subject. He told me how his own faith was all but gone and how his wife vacillated between despair and prayers to God. He himself had had an unfortunate experience in his youth with a minister who had betrayedhis trust; this event had shaken his faith in people and in God. It was obviously a relief for Tom to speak frankly to someone who was not emotionally involved in the situation. People have always found that they need each other to share the burdens of their soul. But there was a look of bewilderment and defeat in Tom's eyes that told me that in this case talking alone would not be enough.
It was no accident that I was visiting Tom at this time, for his wife had phoned and asked me to come. It seems that some weeks before I had preached a sermon on dreams. I had pointed out that dreams tell us something today even as they once did to the people of the Bible. Willing to grasp at anything, Tom and his wife had decided to ask me to visit them. For Tom had noticed one thing about himself: He dreamed many dreams, and there were certain dreams that had returned again and again. I wondered if he had dreamed recently, and in reply he related the following simple dream of a few nights ago:
I was in a room looking out of a small window at people who were playing golf. I wanted to go out to them but couldn't. The window was too small.
For centuries most people have disregarded dreams and scoffed at their apparent absurdity. We know the usual attitude: "They just come from overeating, mere fragments left over from the day.... just nonsense." But my own experience had been different. In the midst of my own difficulties, it had been the understanding of my dreams that showed me the way through. Since then my further studies of psychology and my experiences with the dreams of other people had opened up to me vast vistas of meaning. I began with the premise that dreams are facts. They exist, just as trees and rocks and birds exist. True, one cannot put them under the microscope, for they leave only a faint memory trace in our brain; they remain subjective, the personal business of the dreamer. Nevertheless, as events that take place in our world, they have as much right to careful study as any other event in nature. So. far we haven't found anything in nature that doesn't have its function. So why should we say that of all created things the dream alone makes no sense?
Besides, in this case we were in no position to be choosy. There was nothing to be lost, and much to be gained, by making the assumption that Tom's dream made sense in a symbolic way. All of this we discussed. The question was how to get at the meaning of the dream.
Sigmund Freud, the first modern psychologist to explore the meaning of dreams, felt that dreams were a cover-up for something else; in other words, underneath that which the dream seems to say, another meaning is hidden, which for various reasons cannot be spoken of directly. Carl Jung observed, however, that dreams are not obscure at all, but are clear expressions of our very own nature that mean exactly what they say. My own experience had convinced me of the correctness of Dr. Jung's position. The only difficulty is that dreams speak a symbolic language; and in order to understand them one must understand their symbolism.
One way to uncover the symbolism of a dream is for the dreamer to talk about it. It is, after all, the dreamer's dream and has occurred in his or her psychic world, so it is reasonable to assume that the dreamer might hold the clues to the dream's meaning. And so I asked Tom about golf and what it meant to him. Golf, Tom said, was his favorite game. He loved to play it and did so as often as possible. He deeply regretted that now his physical condition made it impossible for him to play. It reminded him of his childhood, when he could not play games but had to stay home, looking out the window and watching the other boys play.
Dreams. Copyright © by John A. Sanford. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.