Before she became a Christian, my wife, Shirley, used to have nightmares; really scary ones. She would dream of demons, and hell, and the devil carrying her off to the Netherworld and other bizarre sorts of night terrors. I can remember many nights that she would wake up screaming. But they all stopped once she surrendered her life to Christ.
However, I will never forget the day one came back. It came back at summer camp. Let me set the stage for my story by describing a little of what it was like at camp.
When we were pastoring our first church in Southern California, our District Supervisor asked us if we would volunteer for two weeks each summer to help staff the children’s camps. The camp was located in the Mountains above San Bernardino outside of a mountain community called Running Springs.
Each day at camp went from seven-thirty in the morning to eleven at night by the time all the kids and counselors were tucked into their bunks and nightly staff meetings were over. And that was true if everything went smooth; but seldom did anything go smooth. There was the year we had a lice scare. Another year there was a bear-scare where 500 kids cried themselves to sleep for three nights. Another week it was a rumor about a pack of coyotes. And almost every week of every camp for our entire ten years there was home sickness, and a lot of it.
There was one bright spot during the day for counselors and staff. Naptime! Each day after lunch, all counselors and campers were required by order of the Lord (at least that’s what we told them) to be confined to their bunks to sleep. And during these naptimes, all staff took naps as well. It wasn’t required. But it was necessary.
It was during one of these naptimes that one of Shirley’s night mares came back. And after all I have described to you, I’m sure you can see why. As much as camp was a lot of fun; it was also very nightmare-inducing.
We were lying in our double bed during a naptime one afternoon, both in a deep sleep, when my wife’s dream became so loud it woke me up. I rolled over and looked at her. She was in a panic. She was sweating and rolling from side to side, She had a horrified look on her face, though obviously asleep, and was saying, “No…no,” as she uttered light screams.
I felt I needed to wake her up to free her from her torture. So I turned toward her, sat up and knelt over her, put my hands onto her shoulder blades below her neck and lightly shook her as I said, “Shirley, Shirley, wake up, wake up. It’s only a dream.”
However, when she opened her eyes and looked into mine, she screamed at the top of her lungs, sat up and backed away from me as if I was the monster, or whatever it was in her dream that was terrorizing her.
In response to that I reach for her shoulders a second time to console her to which she screamed again and screeched, “No, stay away from me.” I was baffled. After she fully woke up and came to her senses, she discerned what had happened and told me of her dream.
It seems that she was dreaming that I was trying to kill her by choking her. But then she woke up…and I was. That’s what Kid’s Camp will do to you!
But it is also what life will do to us. I’ve talked to many whom, before they were Christians, there were some sort of terrors that haunted them; terrors like nightmares, panic attacks, depressions, fears and such. It’s why Jesus said in Matthew 11: 28, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” And He said in John 14:27, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
My experience is that when Christ is truly in a heart, His rest and peace prevails and the terrors leave.