I had a strange dream this morning. In it, my immediate family and I spent 3 different days visiting boy inmates of a prison. The other visitors to this prison comprised strangers and even members of my extended family. This dream was like a reel of snapshot moments, focus sharpening on certain scenes, on certain individuals. The dream raised no alarm of distress within me. It was even a little vague, as details I remembered during the dream immediately faded out when I awakened. For me, that is always a sign – those details were not to be focused on.
The dream showed roughly 4 main groups of visitors –
my family and I,
a cousin, her sibling and his wife,
an aunt and her family, and
another unknown woman, somewhat wealthy, and her brood of many kids.
It appeared that we were all visiting different inmates. Except for the cousin’s family, I was either told or shown who the other inmates were but I was not detained there.
In the dream, on the first day, it appeared as if I was visiting my son. This was not clear – I never actually saw him in the prison cell, just that it was vaguely alluded to. Visiting there too were all the others as mentioned above. In reality, I am extremely close to those members from my extended family. But in the dream, while they were aware of my presence and scooted over to make place for me on the visitors’ benches in front of the cells, and despite the fact I could sense their compassion, their focus was totally upon whoever it was that they had come to visit. That told me that each group was there for only one person.
The next thing I was very clearly shown on that first day was that other wealthy mother. She was visiting an incarcerated son who didn’t seem to much appreciate the visit. He wore that bored, disinterested look so many kids have, totally impervious to his mother’s busy efforts to secure his release. And busy she certainly was, moving swiftly here and there to get his papers in order, yet oddly at ease with the system.
Interiorly, I knew that she was used to the drill. That it wasn’t her or her son’s first time in jail.
She was also the only one there at this stage of seeing to the release documents. So, her son’s time in jail was coming to an end. Yet, looking at his insouciance, I thought to myself,
The kid doesn’t care. He’s taking his mum’s efforts for granted.
The dream then folded into the second day. We were all there again, each group sitting on those benches in front of a specific cell. There was a lot going on for that other woman again. This time, I could see the assortment of release documents she held. They were ready. Her boy was walking out of his cell when suddenly, his release hit a snag. A commotion ensued – although the mother remained unperturbed. She took it on her chin and moved on quickly to undo the knots.
Her son didn’t do a thing to help.
He was indifferent to her buzzing around, with all his much younger siblings following her like little ducklings. He had no interest in them either, no interaction whatsoever.
He was a kid who clearly lived for himself. And it looked like he was going back in.
Then, came the third day. This time, my husband and I were driving up to the jail and parking in its tiny porch. As we alighted from our car, our son got out too. So, it meant he was no longer incarcerated. There was another family in their car beside us and they were leaving, their car in reverse, when all of a sudden, their car battery died. The husband tried to get the car started but each attempt failed. My son, normally shy and reluctant in social settings, suddenly went up to this car, then turned towards me to indicate I should help that family to jumpstart their battery.
Oh no, I groaned. Trust him to get us into this.
Interiorly, I communicated to my son, I can’t help them. We would miss visiting hours.
I know how it sounds but that response is uncharacteristic of me. If anything, I’m impulsively compassionate, often being where I shouldn’t be. And yet, this time, it was clear that I was not called to this need, that it was more important to me that we not miss the prison visit time. As if to confirm the correctness of my decision, yet another car leaving after a visit came into view, indicating that those occupants would offer the help needed now. And so, we hurried inside the prison.
This time, in the first cell previously occupied by my son, was a new, unknown occupant. It was told to me that he had been anxiously waiting for me. This desperation was conveyed by the fact that he had used a thick, long wire to snag the prison drop-down door and forcibly keep it open. He wasn’t trying to squeeze out from under it and escape, though.
Instead, as I moved to go past this cell, this unseen occupant reached out from beneath the metal doors and caught my feet – in an abjectly pitiful gesture – of begging. In an instant, I understood that he was begging for prayers. That he had no visitor, no mother or father or relative keeping vigil on the bench before his prison cell, thus no one who’d pray for him – unless I did.
Then, I woke up, a grey morning misted in rain, peering in.
Immediately, my thoughts went back to the dream. It didn’t leave behind any residual emotion which I could use as an indicator of how to move forwards. Must have been last night’s movie, I shrugged, and dismissed the dream.
But it wouldn’t go away. Like a gentle wraith, it stood close, quietly and firmly.
I went to my morning prayers. At my home altar, I looked up at the Crucifix. At that moment, I recalled that 3rd day and the unseen boy begging for prayers. Movie-induced dream or not, at the very least, I was dutybound to pray for this soul. And so, I offered him up to the Heart of Jesus.
And continued to offer him up several times more through the morning grocery shopping as I puzzled the dream out. At one point, waiting for my husband to return to our car from a quick errand, I opened my copy of In Sinu Jesu and began to read. The words gently floated by, evading my spirit’s open window. All except this,
I have saved you, through a particular intervention of My Most Holy Mother, from the fate the Evil one was preparing for you ~ In Sinu Jesu, pg. 53
But since my heart did not discernibly react to this, I shrugged off the words.
For someone who shares everything with her husband, this time I had no urge to tell my husband about the dream. And I definitely wasn’t going to tell my son who was facing important exams and already so stressed out over them, that I had dreamt of him in a prison cell.
But in the afternoon, a strange nudge pushed me towards my son and I found myself telling him what I had been shown. Far from being upset, he listened alertly and intently. I confessed that I wasn’t at all sure what he was to do.
Then, recalling that wealthy woman and her ungrateful son, an answer from heaven came. I gently suggested to my son that perhaps he needed to work on his gratitude and thankfulness. Facing such an important exam, it was easy to lose yourself in them and shut out the rest of the world. It was easy to be so focused on yourself and on your academic struggles and to think little of the burdens others carried.
And it was possible that he hadn’t given God the thanksgiving he needed to offer for the depth of support we and his siblings were giving to help him prepare for his exams.
The minute I got that out, it was like a key which unlocked the next door of discernment. I suddenly knew who that unnamed, unseen occupant of the cell was: it was an acquaintance of my son, a boy who had made me very angry over the weekend by lying and trying to cheat me. Honestly, I had always disliked the boy. He was sly, honesty and sincerity not part of him. Since the weekend, I had been praying for guidance on how to deal with the situation involving him – whether to tell the boy what he had done was plain wrong or shut my mouth about it. I was veering towards letting it go because seeing how angry I still was about the incident with him, I’d likely say way more than I should. Like my son, this kid too was facing exams and I didn’t want to upset him in any way. Besides, after the exams, they’d go different ways, that would be that. He’d be someone else’s problem.
Still, my conscience didn’t quite rest.
The very next moment, my prayer was answered. In a 180º turn from what I intended to do, I saw another way to deal with that situation – and it was the best! Gentle yet calling sin exactly what it was – a sin – and then, giving the boy hope by showing him the way forward.
It was then that I recalled the morning’s In Sinu Jesu reading. And I understood it. I had narrowly avoided falling into satan’s traps of indifference and of biting anger. Who knows what both actions would have led to – for the boy, for myself?
From the moment I spoke of my dream to my child, I understood all the other aspects of the dream as well. Never before has discernment of a dream come as swiftly and as clearly.
The dead car batteries of the dream referred to dying faith. This is different to faltering faith or faith struggles. For some reason, while God has called me many times to be there for others who are struggling, He somehow holds me back when it involves faith that is dying. Even when He has shown me those whose faith is dying, it is never about me undertaking intense intercessory rescue efforts; all He has asked is that I call others to minister to this need.
And that I resist feeling guilty about walking away. Because it is never about indiscriminate compassion, spreading ourselves thin running to jumpstart every dead or dying battery. It is never about occupying every visitor bench outside every prison cell. Working in God’s vineyard is always about obedience to Him – not to the dictates of others, not to the impulses of the heart.
As I write this, the date of the dream, October 28, tugs at me. It takes some time before I realise it is the Feast of St. Jude – the very saint who told me exactly 3 years ago, to Pray for Others. In that dream, he had shown me that all those I had been praying for at that time, family mostly, had been prayed safely into the Church. It didn’t mean the job was done; just that they had been passed into the next pair of hands. And that it was time for me to move on, to pray for others.
Today, on his feast day, he came once more bearing this call. St Jude had slipped into my morning, to bring me a boy from prison.