A comment on my previous post on dreams raises the issue of people who have dreams that suggest doing something unwise (like not joining the Church). Yes, that happens. If I actually did just 10% of the things I’ve dreamed about, I’d have been locked up long ago. Remember, inspiration given to us in dreams is very similar to inspiration given to our mind and heart when we’re awake: we need to filter out random thoughts from the whisperings of the Spirit. Many random thoughts are negative and must be discarded, and many random dreams are the same. So how do we tell the difference?
From my experience, learning to hear the voice of the Spirit is somewhat like learning to recognize a new language or new vocabulary words. It’s a skill to be cultivated and requires learning. When a prompting comes from the Spirit, in my opinion, there is often an “outside” flavor to it – it’s not just me alone thinking that or dreaming that up – and there is a “sureness” or solidity to it that demands attention. Like a logically conjugated verb that we don’t yet fully understand, it just seems to fit. And upon further reflection and prayer, it makes sense, though it may require trust and faith.
When I’ve had dreams that I think were inspired, I often awoke sensing that it was a dream to heed, and there have often been positive fruits to heeding them. Other dreams just seem like random dreams and can be ignored (or must be ignored!).
Some dreams may seem like ordinary or minor dreams but can provide a perspective or information that can be of surprising help later. For example, one day on my mission in Switzerland, I dreamed that I was in the library looking for information about Indonesia since we had a new investigator from that land. Though only a few seconds long, it felt like a serious dream. A few hours later, we knocked on a door and met a woman who said she was from Indonesia – the first Indonesian I remember meeting. Her husband wasn’t home and she didn’t seem very interested, but she us to come back later — something we might not have done but for that dream. We definitely came back – and ended up having many great visits with that family (a Swiss man, his Indonesian wife, and their young child) and had one of the best meals of my life with specialties from Indonesia. They came close to baptism, but did not join the Church, at least not while I was there, but I think the relationship we developed was a blessing to both of us, and I hope the Lord continues to bless those fine people.
Of course, it would be insane to heed every dream, so we must learn to filter the rare gems from the normal dross of random mental processes. But perhaps we can learn from even the stray ones or the bad ones. Dreams in which we commit sin, for example, can remind us how fallible we are and how careful we must be.
One of my most troubling dreams came when I was about 10 years old. As with many of the darkest dreams of man, this one involved marketing and marketers. I was starring in a commercial for Ajax cleanser (the powder with a chlorine bleach in it) and was dressed in armor as a knight, riding on a white horse. There were other actors also in armor. There were TV cameras and a director who told me that when the cameras started rolling, my job was to take my lance and charge at one of the other knights in dark armor who represented dirt to show how well Ajax can clean. Cameras! Action! I took my lance and charged at the opposing knight on my trusty stallion. Excellent! My lance went right through the dark knight’s armor, knocking him off his horse. It was perfect for the commercial. Cut! As I dismounted, I realized that the other actor was dead. I had thoughtlessly killed another human being in order to market a product. I was in shock at what I had done and awoke, trembling with the bitterness of that experience. I will never forget it. It sure looks like a wacky random dream, but I feel that I can learn from it. (Now, after all these years, I’m in Corporate America, helping to develop consumer products. I’m happy to say that my workplace as well as my home is 100% lance free.)