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Waking up From the Bad Dream That We Are Unloved and Alone

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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 04/20/16

It's one of Satan's most wicked lies that we have no true Father, that we are spiritual orphans.

What is the first question you were asked today? In the English-speaking world, you may well have been asked, “Did you sleep well?” or “How did you sleep?” When I was in Nicaragua, I was surprised to be asked, “How did you wake up?” (I was tempted to reply, “Only very reluctantly,” but I feared my humor might not translate well.) In Myanmar (Burma), I was asked, “Did you have a nice dream?” I’d like us to consider the importance, in the spiritual life, of the gift of awakening from a bad dream.

We’re all familiar with bad dreams. How often we have heard (or said): “It was so real! Then I woke up and realized it was just a bad dream. What a relief!” A bad dream is a kind of a lie — it separates us from what is real. What if you could not wake up from a bad dream, a nightmare that was convincingly real, with no end in sight? Now think of the joy, the amazement of receiving the gift of awakening — think of being able to sigh with relief and say, “Oh! It wasn’t real. It was just a bad dream! Now let’s get on with living in the real world!”

I mention this because I think that a bad dream is an apt metaphor for one of the most wicked lies of Satan  namely, that we have no true Father, that we are spiritual orphans. If we find ourselves in the grip of that lie, we need to pray for the spiritual gift of awakening — that is, the recognition of the wonderful truth that we do indeed have a true Father, and that we are beloved sons and daughters, heirs to an eternal kingdom.

St. Paul teaches: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery that leads you into fear again. Instead, you have received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). This is the gift of awakening — the liberation from a spirit of slavery and fear. The gift of awakening enables us to call upon our true Father with serene confidence, which is the hallmark of the well-fathered child. When we have received the spiritual gift of awakening, we can recognize the bad dream for the lie that it is, and reject Satan’s whisperings that we are spiritual orphans, fending for ourselves, unloved and unprovided for.

Let’s reflect a bit more on what it means to awaken into a world governed by the love of our heavenly Father. Spiritual author Louis Evely writes:

To love another is to make to him the most powerful, the most imperious of calls; it stirs up within him a hidden silent being who cannot avoid responding to our call, a being so novel that even he who bore it did not know it and which is yet so genuine that he cannot help recognizing it, although he is seeing it for the first time. It is thus that God loves us, loyally and with infinite patience, because he is infinitely Father. God can be denied, forgotten. He cannot deny or forget us. Many may be without God; God cannot be without man. Many may cease being a son, but God cannot cease being a Father. God has created out of love, to give and to give himself, to quicken other beings with his life, to rejoice other beings with his joy, so that there should exist creatures to be loved and loaded with gifts, creatures that should know the joy of living and loving. For he is so much a Father that he wants to give us everything. He wants us to know everything about him. He has therefore given us the power of giving, of being ourselves fathers. He has given us the love of giving so that we should experience the joy of God. He has given us so much that he has given us the power to give.

The love of God as our heavenly Father is the most wonderful truth to awaken to. We emerge from the bad dream (the diabolical lie) that we are orphans and find that we have been living all along in the world our true Father has made for us. If we embrace that wonderful truth, we can be so filled with divine love that it spills over from us to the other people God has put in our lives. The most worthy reception of the spiritual gift of awakening is to call others out of their own bad dreams, out of their own (unreal) spiritual orphanhood, and invite them to receive the truth that they are beloved children of our heavenly Father. Telling the truth about God and about ourselves is a privileged way of dispelling Satan’s lies, of awakening from our bad dreams and into our Father’s heart.

When I write next, I will speak of the complementary role of laughter and grief in the spiritual life. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics.


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