Monday, June 16, 2008

When Dreams Matter

I had a dream last night that caused me to wake up sobbing.

In the dream, I was accused of doing something I did not do. The thing I was accused of doing was an awful thing, but the circumstances were such that even though I didn't do the thing I was accused of, I was there the day (although not at the time the awful thing happened) I was being accused of being there, the people involved saw me there and testified to the fact, and I had no ailibi to place me anywhere else during the time of the awful event that took place. I went to everyone I knew and tried to explain my side of the situation, and not one single person believed me. Most didn't even want to hear my side of the story, as they had already made up their minds. Many had gathered together before I had a chance to go to them to discuss the event and through the course of discussion they'd all come to the conclusion that I was guilty. Without any of them ever coming to me to ask my side of the story.

It hurt so bad every time I'd try to confide in a trusted source, only to have them dismiss me or say "I really don't want to talk about it, it's very unpleasant". It was worse when I'd start to cry only to be mocked by others and told how I deserved to be treated the way I was being treated. By end of the dream I was alone and betrayed. Having been lied about, falsely accused, having my name drug through the mud, laughed at, distrusted and without anyone to stand up for me or with me.

You can imagine why I woke up sobbing. I'm glad I don't have dreams like that often, but I have had them before and it usually takes a few minutes to shake off the fog of a dream like that and remind myself it WAS just a dream and that's not my current real-life situation. The feeling is as real as if it is really happening, so it's the feeling I have to shake off before I can fall back asleep.

I'm pretty sure I know why I had that dream, too. I recently read some things that brought to mind some advice a pastor once gave me during a conversation on the topic of the importance of going to someone when they've sinned against you, or have offended you either intentionally or unintentionally, rather than going to others to talk about them and that offense. What that pastor said, was that if you don't go directly to that person but instead take your offended feelings to others, you effectively engage in gossip and slander about that person, casting doubt on their reputation in the minds of others (which you have no right to do). That might seem like obvious advice (and it did to me) but he assured me that it's one of the most common things he deals with, as a pastor.

I thought about that statement for a while, and realized that I have been guilty of doing that very thing. Maybe to blow off steam or maybe to get counsel, or just use someone else as sounding board before going to the person directly. We've probably all done it, if we really think about it. It can be a most awkward situation to be in, and going to someone else besides the person who offended you might seem like a good idea at the time, but the Scripture is very clear on how to handle those situations:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (Matthew 18:15)
It really cannot get any clearer, can it? I suppose most people don't want to do this though, because it involves direct confrontation, and most of us really would rather do anything than be in a confrontation with someone. I know I don't like it, especially because you never know how it's going to go. What if they blow up at you? What if they just make it worse? Both very real possibilities, and neither very pleasant.

I do think each situation has to be evaluated on it's own merits though. Sometimes going to a trusted person for Biblical counsel first, is good advice (especially if you truly do not know what to do, or what to say). Sometimes it's also good to have a trusted friend that you can blow off steam with in confidence, who will (when you're done) tell you what a dolt you are and how to proceed Biblically and with grace. (It has been my experience that the more I blow off steam, the less I find myself needing to do it. I can only say that this is the faithfulness of God helping me to think things through before I run my big mouth off and say something I might regret later). Sometimes it can be unwise to confront a person directly (if they have a history of violence, or a well-earned reputation of various other forms of abuse), and those are the situations that can be rather complicated. Sometimes, it can be best to take the position of silence and prayer and just let the Holy Spirit do His work in that person's heart, if that person is a true brother or sister. But in most situations, I think the Biblical example of going to that person privately and calmly discussing the offense is the absolute best thing to do.

It may be revealed in such a conversation that your offended feelings were the result of a misunderstanding, and you could turn out to be the one who needs to do some apologizing. It may turn out that the offending party truly meant no ill-will and had a blind spot that they end up thanking you for, for pointing out to them. It can turn out in good ways, and it's definitely worth it to at least make that effort to have such a private conversation if at all possible.

What is never advisable, never profitable, never fruitful and never beneficial, at least from where I sit, is to engage in chatter about the person with others, tearing them down, coming to a conclusion of "guilty as charged" without ever giving them the courtesy of that private conversation, and sparing them the marred reputation in the minds of others. I've been on both sides of this fence and was deeply convicted as the one participating in it, and deeply grieved as the one being discussed and found "guilty".

Of course, there are variables and this thought here certainly doesn't apply in all situations at all times. I strongly believe that public statements or actions by public figures falls into a slightly different category (as in, going to them privately is impossible, but addressing their public statements or actions is within the bounds of what is acceptable), but even when expressing opinion about such statements or actions our standard is supposed to be grace and truth, with a desire for building up, rather than tearing down.

This is an area where the Lord is really really working on me. While the dream was technically a nightmare in terms of classification, I'm glad I had it because the lesson in it matters. Even if it only matters to me.

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