There are three types of anxiety dreams that all pastors experience in one form or another.
Common Dream #1
It’s Sunday morning. The pastor walks in to church. Worship has already started. The organ is playing. The pastor looks down and sees that she is still wearing her pajamas. She runs to her office to find her sermon. The sermon cannot be found. How can she nonchalantly walk into worship and look like she has it altogether with her pajamas on and no sermon? Her heart races. She grabs her Bible. She will make something up. Suddenly she is in the pulpit. The pulpit is filled with garbage. Big Gulps, McDonald’s wrappers, crusts of bread, sticky soda pop covers the wood. The pulpit is so covered with garbage, there is no room for the Bible. She will have to hold it while she preaches. She wonders if they will notice the pajamas? She looks out to the congregation. They are waiting to hear the Word. The pastor tries to speak. No words come out of her mouth. She has lost her voice.
Common Dream #2
Session Meeting. The pastor is gathering the agenda for the meeting. There are stacks and stacks of handouts. It’s going to be a long meeting. The pastor realizes she forgot to wear shoes to church that day. She is in a business suit and not wearing shoes. She wonders if they will notice? She walks in and starts the meeting. She looks around the room and notices there is an elephant sitting at the table. It’s just a little elephant, like the size of a child’s toy. She decides to ignore it. The meeting begins with prayer. After she says, Amen she looks over and the elephant has grown into the size of a real, baby elephant. It starts to eat the paper. Um, does anyone want to talk about the elephant in the room? the pastor asks. The room is quiet. All of the elders are looking at the papers. No one sees the elephant. The elephant grows again. It’s the size of the room. Um, I think we better talk about the elephant in the room, the pastor says again. Let’s just move rooms, an elder replies. I’m not sure if we can find a room big enough. The elephant will follow us there.
Common Dream #3
It’s any normal day. The pastor shows up at church and finds a letter, an e-mail, a phone call, a text, and Facebook message that she has forgotten to go visit someone in the hospital. She was supposed to visit them days ago. She forgot. How could she be so negligent? Everyone else knew they were in the hospital. Why didn’t she? She can’t find the name of the person she is supposed to visit. She can’t find the sticky note with the person’s hospital room. She opens her car door. Thousands of sticky notes come pouring out. These are the people she forgot to visit. She rummages through the papers trying to find the person she needs to see. Which sticky note is it? She keeps looking. She finds the one. She gets to the hospital. There is construction. She realizes she forgot to put on clothes. She wonders if they will notice when she walks into the hospital? Nobody seems to notice. She tries to find the hospital room. There are long halls with many doors. Nobody seems to know where her parishioner might be. She cannot find the room. She keeps walking and walking down long halls. She can’t find the parishioner anywhere. Suddenly, she sees an empty room. She wonders if anyone will notice if she uses it for a nap. She lies down in the crisp, white sheets, and rests.
Anxiety dreams are just dreams, but they tell us a lot about what worries us and what takes up space in our subconscious. Preaching, leadership and pastoral care are the three most important roles a pastor plays and so it makes sense that these would be the most common rotation of nightmares. But dreams are more than just exaggerated scenarios of our daily lives. They are also opportunities to Hear God Speak.
Where is God in these dreams? God is the Truth Teller.
God is the one saying, Don’t preach garbage, preach the Word.
God is the one saying, The elephant will only get bigger, until you address it.
God is the one saying, There is no way you can take care of everyone. You will let people down. You are not responsible for every person. You are responsible for your own self-care. Now put some clothes on and get some rest. You are not the savior of the world. I Am.
Pastors have a hard time admitting their own vulnerabilities and confessing their fears of failing. After all, we are supposed to be spiritually mature and theologically grounded. The truth is, all pastors are profoundly human and equally broken. The truth is, our egos are pretty huge and we make ourselves more important than we are. – Of course all dreams are ego-centric, but what would happen if we shared the burden of ministry instead of putting the burden on ourselves? Just how important do we think we are? We are not called to be Saviors. We are called to be Disciples. We best know the difference.
Dear Pastors and Colleagues in Ministry,
I get it. I know your day and I know the weight you carry. I know your integrity and I know your desire to serve God and fulfill your calling of discipleship. I know your worries and I know how strongly you desire to live faithfully. God loves you for your desire to love Him.
I also know that you are a Child of God. You are wonderfully made. I know you get tired, annoyed, lonely and doubtful. You are allowed to be all of these things. You are human. God loves you for your humanness and desire to be authentic and vulnerable.
As your colleague, I will not offer some trite word, or some passing prayer, as if that will take the pressure off. I will tell you, that God is with you today. As you sit with the Word and grapple with your sermon. As you prepare to lead and speak the truth in love. And as you walk into the hospital room and care for those who are suffering. As you deal with leaky roofs and stewardship campaigns. As you prepare a Bible study and plan for Advent. Wherever you are today, God is with you. He is right there. He’s got your back. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. He will see you in your dreams.