When Nightmares Become Reality

by Grace Pike July 21, 2021

Have you ever awakened from a dream so painful, so vivid, that your pillow soaked through with tears? The kind of dream that caused your heart to ache long beyond your waking? Even if you are not the kind of person who dreams (or remembers them), have you ever been startled by your negative emotional response to something?

I woke up sobbing recently, and I have not yet been able to shake what I saw behind closed eyes. Moving on from a terrible dream with no grounding is one thing, but trying to rightly process struggles that are still real in the light of day is quite another. For me, it was the latter.

Just as in sleeping, feelings of anger, regret, or sadness sometimes seem to slip into the mind without permission.

It should not come as a surprise when the brokenness of the world attempts to seep into our thoughts any more than it should surprise us when the brokenness of our minds seeps outward into the world. Sometimes this is a tactic of the Enemy–tempting us to yearn for something ungodly. Sometimes it is just our sinful flesh revealed. Always, it is a result of the Fall presented in Genesis 3. The shadow of this narrative is not just a bad dream; it is reality.

As immediately as Adam and Eve felt pain in their bodies and brokenness in their relationship, the whole world began to groan under the weight of sin (Gen. 3:16-24; Rom. 8:19-23). Just as God cast them from the Garden of Eden, so too were we all separated from God by our iniquity (Is. 53:6). Now, no matter how tightly we shut our eyes or grasp for comfort, humanity must face the existence of fallenness within and without.

No one is exempt from experiencing the effects of sin in our being, our relationships, and our world (Rom. 3:23). Humanity will slog on continuously when we trust in our efforts or solutions; we will toil in a slumber of death from which we cannot wake. A death that, if attempted by our own hands to escape, will be eternal.

Yet through the darkness, there is a beam of hope:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).

From the displaced refugee searching for hope, to the rich man caught in the snare of a thousand mistakes, to the girl sold into a life of inescapable slavery, the eye of the Lord rests upon them. The hand of the Lord is not short to save. The Lord extends love in Jesus to every broken mind, every bloody hand, every busted-up heart. Including yours. Including mine.

By grace, through faith in Jesus, one may be saved (Eph. 2:8). This salvation is not a promise of deliverance from every bad or hard thing on this side of eternity, but it does secure our eternal life in Christ. If you “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him,” then you “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-14). This truth should bring immense comfort.

But what does someone who loves God do when face-to-face with the nightmarish realities of life now? How should we react when the worst fear comes true: the abuse uncovered, the terminal diagnosis given, the relationship severed?

When Corrie ten Boom, imprisoned for helping hide Jews during World War II, experienced “too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering,” pressing in on her and others at the Nazi concentration camp, she said this:

“The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God. ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Rom. 8:35,39).”[1]

The truth that God’s love is present with us in our pain now is just as real as the promise that we will one day dwell in his presence forever.

One day we will awaken in glory, and God “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:4). Every nightmare will cease, and all shadows will dissipate in the light of his presence (Rev. 21:23). Every sad thing will come untrue.[2]

For now, God’s Word comforts. God’s Spirit guides. Fear dissolves in the light of truth, and the heart steadies in the grace of trust. We can hold onto the promises our eyes cannot see and the hope our souls know to be real. Even when nightmares become true, God’s love is the enduring reality.

[1] Excerpt from The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom

[2] This phrase comes from J. R. R. Tolkien’s character Sam Gangee in The Lord of the Rings, chapter 4 of book six