Yesterday’s Leaving Cert. results has drawn to a conclusion (for most at least) , one of the strangest and most challenging exam years ever. I say ‘one of the most challenging’ because many of us still wake up in the middle of the night, sweat soaked, heart pounding, as we have dreamed ‘that’ dream. You know the one I’m talking about, you’re in your most important Leaving Cert. exam, you don’t seem to know which one, you turn over the exam paper, and it makes no sense whatsoever, and your mind melts into absolute panic. Even with calculated grades I suspect many of this year’s Leaving Cert graduates may experience this particular nightmare in the years to come. I think it’s the absence of control in our lives that can trigger this dream. It certainly seems to appear in our subconscious mind at times where we feel overwhelmed, anxious or fearful.
My own version of this dream is somewhat different. I turn up on a Sunday morning at my home church in Rathdowney; except it doesn’t look or feel quite like the church building of my youth. I’m arriving to take a service, but I have not been told which form of liturgy is being used, nor the readings, nor the hymns not even the theme. As the service begins, a surge of panic begins to consume me, I feel lost, embarrassed and really afraid…, and then I wake up!!
While there are times that I have walked up the steps into the pulpit, nerves jangling, as I’m not quite sure what I’m going to preach about ; I’m not aware of any occasion in my past that this has actually happened. Of course our dreams aren’t about the detail but about the way they make us feel, they seemed to communicate to us deep fears and an absence of control. Fear is a magnifier, it always expands in our troubled mind the sense of impending doom and disaster that threaten to overwhelm us. It sends us down rabbit- holes as we scurry to fix some unsolvable problem, as we worry in our deepest core that we will fail and be rejected.
Interestingly I haven’t had my version of the Leaving Cert dream for many years, but I clearly remember the last time I dreamed it. It was all the same familiar scene, the growing dread, the rising panic, but then something extraordinary started to happen: my troubled mind started fixing the problem. Some part of me began to realize that I could decide what theme to follow, what hymns to sing, what words to say. I could take control, even though I felt so out of control. The only explanation I have for this problem-solving approach is that, at the time, I had begun reading the Psalms before I went to sleep. I had found I was waking every morning filled with fear, unsettling paralyzing fear that pinned me to the bed with a tangible dread that I could not face the day ahead. It always eased once I eventually got out of the bed and began to move about. But I was getting to the stage that I would delay going to sleep so I wouldn’t have to wake up in the morning. A wise friend counseled that reading a few verses of the Bible each night would allow the hope-filled words to percolate in my subconscious and change the narrative of fear my mind was fixed upon. And it worked, gradually, over a number of weeks until my ‘problem solving dream’ dealt its killer blow.
My greatest fear has always been that of being a failure, letting people down, and in some way being caught out by others as a result. Even now there are moments when I can’t believe that people haven’t worked out what a mess I am and turned away. Of course, the truth is, most people have long since noticed and sensed my frailties and failure but it hasn’t turned them away. They are willing to accept me, warts and all, so much quicker than I am able myself. This is community, family, friendship. It is also life changing. Fears feel so much worse in isolation, when there are others with us, things somehow don’t seem so bad. This was proved most recently by cousins Sarah Feeney and Ellen Glynn who spent a night on rough seas with their boards tied together to a lobster pot-buoy, awaiting rescue. They spoke of their care to encourage each other by singing Taylor Swift songs and praying together. As one of the two fishermen who found them stated, ‘We rescued them, they saved themselves’. Such was the trust and faith between them that they could lean on each other. We can only imagine what those long hours were like, how one would encourage the other one when it all got too much, and then vice-versa.
As we journey through extraordinary times, hopefully for many, with good Leaving Cert. grades in your pocket, with CAO dreams fulfilled, we need to re-learn deep truths. We need one another. We are not as individualized as some would have us think, we need community, we need support, and whether we realize and accept it or not, we need God. He alone can fully understand what we feel and experience, He alone can stick with us in the darkest days and fear-filled nights. He alone can give us a peace that passes understanding. Please know that you can absolutely lean on me, but I too am fragile; You can however Lean on Jesus with absolute confidence.