The other night I was laying in bed at 2 am desperately trying to fall asleep, and the thought suddenly hit me…
“God, YOU are the one keeping them through the night.”
I thought of my precious kids in the next room over, sleeping soundly. Breathing in. Breathing out. Again and again. Breath after breath. Night after night. And in that moment I was overcome with the thought that with every breath He chose to give them…God was sustaining their lives.
And then I thought of my fourth baby. The one who will never be coming to sleep in the room next to me. I will never hear baby Charlie’s sweet breaths in the night. And I ache with pain.
But the question remains: Who kept me safe in the night when I was pregnant with Charlie? Who caused my lungs to fill with air, and my heart to keep on beating? Who kept me every one of those precious nights baby Charlie lived his life inside of me? And who caused his heart to beat? Who protected him in the night?
This was an important thought for me, because it’s most likely that baby Charlie died in the night. Maybe when I turned over during the night. Maybe while I was motionless and fast asleep. As much as I long to know the exact moment and the exact way…does it matter really? I was most likely fast asleep in that infinitely precious moment between my baby’s last moment on earth and his first step into eternity.
During my first pregnancy I had thought very seriously about buying one of those personal heart monitors that supposedly let you hear your baby’s heartbeat every moment of the day. But do you know what held me back from that ridiculous purchase? The words “every moment of the day.” Because it wouldn’t be. In the end…we all have to sleep. No one would be able to stay awake and in “control” of that much of their life.
For all our dithering as humans about words like “choice” and “free will,” and all the attempts we make to be “safe” and “healthy” and “protected” each day, in the end we are all reduced to dust and frailty every time we go to sleep. Even criminals and mafia dons are like helpless babes when they sleep. I wonder sometimes if God gave us sleep simply to remind us daily of our frailty as created beings.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I used to be afraid of dying in my sleep. When I was younger I had two fire alarms, a carbon monoxide detector and a radon dector in my room with me. (I know. I can be a real overachiever when I put my mind to something.) My fears probably arose somewhat from that children’s prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Probably not the best prayer for a child as impressionable, imaginative, and literal as me. But at some point I did take those words literally, and I became very afraid of dying in my sleep.
Then one day I shared this with a friend during a prayer time and she said, “Why don’t you close your eyes and picture yourself sleeping.” She then told me to take a minute and imagine where Jesus was in the room while I was asleep. And in that moment, as I prayed, God gave me a picture of Jesus coming around my bed and laying down beside me and rubbing my back like my mom used to do for me. Next my friend said, “Now, as you picture Jesus with you in this moment, tell Him why you are so afraid.” And so, I told Him. I poured out my heart to Him in that fragile place…the place of sleep. It was not strange or hokey in any way. It was just a simple prayer time. A time of talking to Jesus and seeing His presence in a painful and scary place in my life. And I was no longer afraid. Somehow, seeing God’s nearness to me in a place of deep fear, took away its power over my life.
Try it sometime. Try going back to a moment that was painful or uncertain, or seemed to be a moment when God’s presence did not feel close by…and pray that God would give you a real picture of where Jesus was in that place and time.
Honestly, I think falling asleep was a huge fear of mine, ultimately because it felt like the end of me. It was a very tangible picture of my being out of control of my life. And isn’t that what all of our fears are really?
As the saying goes, “Tell me what you fear, and I will tell you what you love.” Ultimately, every one of us have fears that reveal feeling out of control and incapable of protecting that which we love most. Our lives. Our loves. Our health. Our wealth. Our dreams. We fear reaching the end of ourselves. We fear losing something we desperately wanted to keep.
And that’s what the last two and a half months have been for me. Seeing the end of me. I know now that I can’t keep my children alive past the number of days God has ordained for their lives. I know now that I can’t protect my little ones from all of the pain and sorrows of this life. I can’t protect them as they sleep. I can’t even control one breathe I breath in the dark of night. Or, for that matter, in the bright light of day.
We cannot protect our kids nearly as much as we’d like to think we can, and all of the vitamins, and seat belts, and doctor appointments in world mean absolutely nothing when God says that your time on this earth is finished. I know this acutely. And so does every parent I know who has had to bury a baby.
Every morning we humans wake up…up into the lives that God sustained through the night. And then we go right back to a long day of fighting God tooth and nail for control of virtually every aspect of our lives. And then, whether we like it or not, we go to bed each night, forced once again to give ourselves completely over to His safekeeping. And thus ends another day. Its exhausting this battle we humans fight.
What if we just stopped fighting? What if we began to acknowledge Him for His goodness and sovereignty over every breath we take? Both asleep and awake. And what if we were able to more fully see His goodness and Sovereignty over even the day we stop breathing?
I wanted so badly to live life with our baby boy. I wanted so very much to have a lifetime of seeing God give our Charlie breath, after precious breath of life. But I am learning that just because life is precious… does not mean we’ve been unprotected when it is taken away.
Psalm 121:4 says, “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” I love how Israel means “One who struggles with God.” That’s you and me. It pretty much sums up us humans perfectly. Constantly struggling against the One who never slumbers nor sleeps. Who lovingly gives us every breathe we take. And then, one day, lovingly… doesn’t. One day, in each one of our lives, He will instead chose to protect us and keep us…by gently drawing those who are His into eternity.
And as these days go by, what defines us most is not the number of our days, or even the quality…but rather our faith in the One who gives us every breath we breathe. Our faith in the God who does not sleep.