Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." Joseph answered Pharaoh, "It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer."
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.
—Genesis 41:14-16, 25-27, 33
I don’t know about you, but my mind is very active at night. Every night, before I go to sleep, I say to myself, “I wonder what incredible dreams my mind will come up with tonight?” I love waking up in the morning and trying to piece together the stories my mind concocted.
Under normal circumstances, my dreams are usually comprised of interesting adventures in worlds that bear a passing resemblance to our own. I look forward to dreaming so much that sometimes the best part of my day is going to sleep.
This has changed a bit during the pandemic. Lately, I have been having very vivid dreams that sometimes leave me feeling unmoored. From what I’ve been reading, I am not alone. Our dreams are often a reflection of our circumstances.
Our emotional state influences the content of our dreams. Since humans are very susceptible to stress, when our lives have been thrown out of balance, then that disequilibrium will often show up in our dreams.
When I was younger, I tried to understand the meaning behind my dreams. Like Joseph, I believed that our dreams were communications from God. The biblical authors believed that God placed certain dreams in our minds at night to tell humans about the future.
Most people lacked the ability to interpret dreams and it was thought that only certain gifted people, like Joseph, could parse out the meaning. This is why Pharaoh calls on Joseph to interpret his dreams. They believed that correctly interpreting the content of a dream could be the difference between life and death.
Today, we know that our dreams serve multiple functions. Dreams help us to parse through short-term and long-term memories. They help us to repeat and learn certain skillsets.
For instance, when I memorize my sermons, my brain consolidates and sharpens what I have learned the previous day during my sleep. If I get poor sleep before I preach, I cannot effectively remember my words. But, perhaps the most important function of our dreams is regulating our emotional state.
Have you ever noticed how a good night’s sleep can alleviate the symptoms of emotional stress? Whenever I find myself in a situation where I feel heavy anxiety or melancholy, I know that a few nights of good sleep will ease those negative emotions.
The problem we face in our current situation is that we are in a constant state of stress. When you wake up every morning and you’re facing the exact same stressful circumstances as the day before, it becomes harder for your brain to dissipate all those negative emotions.
This is why so many of us are having crazy dreams. We are simply overwhelmed by the challenges this virus is causing in our lives. In this way, our dreams are telling us something important: life is not the way it should be and everyone is struggling.
No one is immune from the dilemma of our current circumstances. Indeed, like Joseph’s interpretation for Pharaoh, we are entering into lean years. This means is that we need to be extra vigilant. We need to care for each other. We need to store up grain so that we can make it to the other side of this intact.
It’s going to take all of us working together to create the solution to this problem. Even if we cannot contribute to the medical solution or we’re struggling to make ends meet financially, we can contribute emotionally.
Sharing our resources of love, kindness, and compassion with our fellow humans is one of the best ways for us to demonstrate what it means to be a Christian during this difficult time. Let’s rise to the occasion and show the world what it means to love our neighbor!