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Volume 9, Issue 4: Childer

Tucking Them In

Douglas Wilson

We spend a lot of time asleep, as do our children. By the time our children are eighteen, a good third of their time under our roofs has been spent sound asleep - about six years for each of them. How should parents bring up their children during this time? Is any more involved than tucking them in, walking away, getting a glass of water, and then walking away again?

Many times we do nothing about our own sleep, and nothing about the sleep of our children, because it does not seem like there is much that we can do. And even if we accepted a responsibility to do something, it would not be at all clear to us what that something might be.
Before making any efforts to be good parents while our children sleep, a review of God's promises is first necessary. God does have promises for us concerning our sleep, and childhood is a good time to teach our children to trust in those promises - and we do that by trusting in them ourselves.
For example, in spite of considerable turmoil in his life, David can still say, "I laid me down and slept; I awoke; for the LORD sustained me" (Ps. 3:5; cf. 4:8). Trusting in God and sleeping free from anxiety are intimately connected. The ability to do this in times of trouble is not a native ability of ours; it is a gift from God.
This trust in God is directly related to the view taken of God. Your children can be taught that we can all sleep safely precisely because God never sleeps. "He that keeps thee will not slumber. Behold, He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps. 121:2-4). Our sleep is a gift from our sleepless God (Ps. 127:1-2).
Another related issue is that of work. Children who are being taught to work are also being taught how to sleep in a godly fashion also (Ecc. 5:12). Children who are being taught obedience to the commands of God are, in addition, being taught to sleep sweetly (Prov. 3:21-24).
Now prayers at bedtime are commonplace . . . even routine. But in many homes, the time right before bed is still a lost opportunity. A great deal can be accomplished during this time - much more than will be effected with a quick, tossed-off "NowIlaymedowntosleep."
These things mentioned above - trusting in God, working hard, obeying Him - are to be taught to your children throughout their lives. Now one of the best ways to learn anything is through imitation (Eph. 6:1). Put another way, your kids should not just be told to trust God as they go to sleep, they should be able to see you trusting God as they go to sleep. And if bedtime is the only time they see you trusting God, then they will, of course, write off that trust as the hypocrisy it is. But parents who are consistent Christians throughout the day have a wonderful opportunity to secure and anchor what they have demonstrated over the course of the day at bedtime.
In our household, one of the ways we sought to do this was through a blessing. When we went to put our children (at that time, little) to bed, we would tell them stories, pray and sing with them, and give them their rules. ("No throwing snowballs. And no playing with the moon.") But when it was time for sleep, I would also place my hand on their heads and bless them.
These bedtime benedictions were much more than a fearful request for God to do something which we didn't think He would be willing to do - it was an authoritative benediction. Now when a benediction is given contrary to or outside of the promises of God, the more authoritative it is the worse it is. No creature has the authority to tell God what to do. We have no right to order Him about. But when God has promised something, then to pass on that promised blessing authoritatively is an exhibition of trust, not presumption. And parents most certainly have the authority to minister God's promised blessings to their children.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and parents have every right to pass the blessings associated with the fear of the Lord on to their children. Such blessings involve the promise of sweet sleep, protection from bad dreams, and much more. Further, the benefit of such blessings includes more than the content of what is declared; it also includes the children being able to see the faith of the parents as they believe God. Seeing this faith provides a basis for godly imitation as they learn to trust God themselves. As they learn this central lesson, they have a sense of profound security strengthened and built up because they see the basis of all such security - faith lived out in front of them.
Children should learn to trust God through a trust in their parents' trust of God. For many reasons, bedtime is a great time for teaching this. When we are awake, we are especially vulnerable to our delusional notions of self-sufficiency. When we are asleep, we are completely and totally helpless, but at least we feel a sense of this helplessness. This is why learning trust at bedtime is a good time to learn it - we know we are not in a position to care for ourselves, and we are needy - we need someone else to care for us. An attitude of trust developed here can then carry over into our "daytime" lives.
And if our children learn this attitude of trust it will carry over into the rest of their lives.

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