I had a bad dream last night. I was out in the desert, surrounded by scrub brush and dirt and a lot of people. It was daytime, and we were in a fairly large depression that had been surrounded by earthen walls on four sides. My children were off playing with the other kids, basically running around in hordes and laughing hysterically.
As my children played, I went to go climb one of the walls to see what was on the other side. Just as I rose above the crest, I saw an old F-104 Starfighter amble overhead, largely flipped over so that it was almost top down. Soon, two F/A-18 Hornets screamed by in formation, and I knew they were supposed to bracket the old Starfighter and bank left. One of the Hornets got too close and clipped one of the wings of the Starfighter, which was clearly going to crash.
The pilot of the Starfighter miraculously managed to right the slow-moving plane and do a belly-landing in the soft desert dirt. Nobody was hurt, but the pilot immediately popped the top and started running from the smoking ruin. To my horror, I watched all the children swarm the plane, laughing and climbing on the wings and fuselage, which was starting to smoke more and more. I ran over and started yelling to the children to get away. I was keeping my own distance, knowing that the jet fuel in the plane could explode at any second, when I saw my own two oldest children climb right up on top of the cockpit. Where my two oldest children were, I was sure that my youngest child was sure to follow, but I did not see him.
I started yelling frantically for them to get down off the plane and waved for them to come to me, but they did not hear me and ignored my motions. My daughter, in her innocence, even began waving for me to come to her! Just as I was steeling myself to run in after them, knowing full well that it was going to be futile, I awoke with a start.
Some dreams carry residual emotions with them when you awake, and I retained the fear of losing all three of my children in that horrible accident this morning. I didn't sleep so well after that.
As it was General Conference this past weekend, I've been in a mode of contemplation, and I immediately began to consider the applications of this dream.
First off was the practical: it is simply impossible to warn your children about all the potential dangers that might occur to them in their lives. Seriously, have you ever warned your children that if a plane crash lands in the desert, you shouldn't climb on it because it might explode? (I probably will later today.) That kind of situation just doesn't come up in normal day-to-day life.
We warn them against all sorts of physical dangers: look both ways before crossing the street, don't run with scissors, keep your fingers out of wall sockets, and even brush your teeth really well or they'll fall out someday. At some point, however, children need to start thinking for themselves, and consider for themselves the dangers that there are in this world. For my own children, they seem to have a healthy sense of self-preservation, but not such a good sense of how their actions can injure another. They also haven't shown great wisdom in unfamiliar or unusual settings, such as illustrated in my dream.
So, I ask myself, how do I help my children to recognize dangers that could quite literally be right beneath their feet? Clearly I need to help them to recognize the promptings and direction that can come from the Holy Spirit. My two older children have been baptized and have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means that they have the right to be guided by the Spirit of God at all times in their lives, if they live worthily. I can certainly teach them how to live worthily by modeling and encouraging good behaviors, but how do I, as a parent, teach them how to actually listen to the promptings of the Spirit?
So often my children get so excited about things that they don't stop and think about their surroundings. In my dream, it was quite evident that they were just following the crowd, all in the name of fun and excitement. This put them in a place that was dangerous to them physically. This panicked me, and I was deeply afraid of losing my children.
To draw the comparison, I think that it is all too easy to follow the crowd into places that are not only physically dangerous, but spiritually dangerous. I find myself wondering if my children would be discerning enough to recognize these types of situations, and to avoid them from the beginning. At this writing, I'm not so sure.
The dream certainly shook me, and I now know what we will be talking about during Family Home Evening tonight.