Bedtime, I think, is one of the most challenging times a parent can face. I’ve jokingly said that it would be a lot easier to handle if it didn’t come at the very end of the day, when everyone is exhausted and at the point of just trying to survive. (I say this with full knowledge that with only one child, I have it pretty easy. It’s true that God gives us no more than we can handle.) Children have a way of making reason after reason to postpone the inevitable. For awhile, my daughter had a statement she would make after the lights were out and she was tucked in, and every time she said it, we would jump to her aid.
At first glance, it seemed that she was making it up, or that she really was sad only about having to go to bed when she didn’t want to. When one night turned into two, and two nights turned into a week or two of sadness and tears at bedtime – and she couldn’t say why, exactly, she was crying or sad – we knew something was up.
That was when, as I like to call it, “Holy Spirit Parenting” set in. Maybe you’ve had those moments – the moments when you’re saying something that seems brilliantly wise and insightful and you have absolutely. no. idea where the words are coming from. The words fall on ears that understand AND ACCEPT them, and in a miraculous turn of events, the child and the situation are somehow under control.
One night, as Jennifer was softly crying into her fuzzy duck pillow, I found myself introducing the idea of a bag of tools.
“Here’s your bag of tools, honey. (I held my hand out, clutching an invisible bag of tools.) This is a very important, very powerful bag of tools. You’re old enough to know how to use it now, and it’s especially good for when you are sad. Let me tell you about the tools inside the bag.
“The first tool is to pray. Ask Jesus to help you to not feel sad any more. He’s here with you, sweetie, ESPECIALLY when you feel sad, and even if you don’t know why you’re sad or why you want to cry, He knows and He knows what to do. Ask Him to help you.
“The second tool in your bag is all of your joy songs you’ve learned. Sing them. Sing them LOUDLY if you have to. I’ve got the JOY, JOY, JOY, JOY down in my heart… Belt it out. Sing it, sweetie, because it’s true, and Jesus hears you when you sing.
“The third tool you have in here is to think about all of the things you can be happy about. Find things to thank Jesus for. Think about your day…swimming in the pool with your cousins. Playing with Sebastian. Getting that new funny movie from the library. Reading that new book and laughing at the voices we used. Making a new friend at the park. Think about the things that make you smile, and thank Jesus for them.
“Those are your tools, honey. Here…you hold onto the bag. (She reached out and took the “bag” from me, tucking her clinched fist under her chin and nodding.) Hold onto it until morning, and USE IT.”
And do you know what? IT WORKED. (Of course it worked.) She has not called downstairs to us at all since that night. There has been no mysterious sadness that keeps her from going to sleep, and we do inventory of her bag of tools every night as we tuck her in. She knows what’s in there, and she reminds me, even, to use my tools when I am sad. (We had a death in my family recently, and upon finding me in the kitchen crying, Jennifer went and got my blanket off my bed and reminded me to use my tools.) She told her class in Vacation Bible School about their bag of tools. She GETS it.
At first, I celebrated just that bedtime was going more smoothly, and that there were no sad boogeymen taunting her as she drifted off to sleep. As a mama, that was a relief on many levels.
Before long, though, I realized that what I had given her – what the Lord had empowered me to give her – was not just a tool for bedtime. It was a tool for life.
Depression and inexplicable sadness are not strangers to me. I KNOW what it feels like to just want to cry…or to WISH you could cry, but the lack of any feeling whatsoever makes it impossible. I know what it feels like to be overtaken with sadness as sleep creeps in and the day comes to an end. I know all too well what it feels like for those same feelings to invade the daylight hours, too, and I have prayed fervently that Jennifer would not suffer with that the way I have.
One night when Jennifer was just a few months old, I stood over her bed praying for her…praying against the demons of depression and anxiety and pleading with God to save her from that. As I did, I felt God speak something into my heart. He reminded me that she will struggle with something. She is human, and she will have pain. There is no way to protect her from that. Oh, that I could……but I cannot. With that reminder came the revelation, too, that really, in a weird way, my preference is that she should deal with the same things I have dealt with…because then, at least, I understand. I can help. I can offer trinkets of wisdom that I’ve collected on my own journey down the same paths.
I don’t know if her mysterious bedtime sadness is any sign of anything deeper. I don’t have access to that kind of insight. Maybe it is, or maybe it is nothing more than what it appears to be on the surface. What I do know, though, is that because Jesus has overcome everything of this world and because the Spirit of God resides within my little girl, she has powerful tools to handle whatever may come.
I think we can both rest a little easier in that knowledge.
Journeying with you,
(Note: Those of you who know my family may be confused by my reference to Jennifer. As my girl gets a little older, I’m giving her a pseudonym anytime I reference her in my online space. When I asked her what name she would want if she could have any name in the world, she said Jennifer. So Jennifer she shall be! Here, anyway….)