I could hear the whimpers down the hall and the door creak open. Moments later my son walks in with a Teddy-shrouded face, begging for help. I’ve seen it before. He was having, what we call, a fast dream.
From what I can tell about every other kid (our first, third, and fifth) have had night-terrors that are mostly marked by some sleepwalking, a fog in their minds where everything is moving very fast, and very scary. Jonathan has only begun this stretch. He tends to come to me (pretty much don’t mind this a bit), but at the same time he’s scared of me. What I mean is, apparently in his recurring dream he’s unable to breathe well, he wants “me” to slow down, and he’ll often say, “Please, daddy, please!”
I wish I could reach inside that gray matter of his and straighten things out and slow things down. Instead, I’m left with hugging, sometimes some washing of feet, and, if it really persists, the allure of a midnight brownie in the kitchen. There’s no silver bullet to the relief, at least not that I’ve found with my kids. Most consistently, there are voiced assurances of reality, a pleading to breathe slowly, and verbal reassurances of my love.
Last night, after every attempt and method I could muster, about mid-brownie bite, he snapped out of it. He looked very peaceful, even pleased. To keep things light, I ran away from him in that daddy-coaxing-to-chase-me kind of way, and he responded. He walked into the bedroom to show mommy he was fine and I carried him back to bed. I laid him down, tucked him in, and then I heard him say something I’ve never heard him say before (not like this)…
“Daddy, I double, double, double love you.”
He pulled me down by the neck and hugged me hard. Unprovoked. Overflowing.
It was clear to me that he was showing a pretty dude-intense kind of affection and gratitude for his “rescue.” I just wanted him safe and to be secure, and his relief overflowed to a “double” portion of love. It may, or may not, have produced a man-tear. As I shared it with Jan and started to drift off to sleep, the reflection of rescue, fathers, sons, fear, and affection just could not stay earth-bound.
Something was scaring my son. Something in his psyche was moving so fast, and out of control, that he didn’t know what to do. It also was apparent that something about me, either outside of his dream trying to reach in, or perhaps me in his dream, that frightened him. Yet, he clung to me.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ~ Matthew 10:28
While there is much to fear in life, and life regularly reminds us how little control we have, it is really God himself that should provoke some very real, initial fear. While much can influence our lives, even catastrophically, only God rules life in its physical finality and its eternal destiny.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. ~ Proverbs 9:10
It is wise for us to realize that God rules in this way, and we have to reckon with Him one way or another. For the one who fears, yet clings to God for rescue (in a sense) from the God we fear, there will be deliverance and rescue.
I tried a verbal appeal. I tried reasoning. I tried washing his feet, and some pats on the arms. With every method used to help relieve my son, I never stopped telling him the “truth” of what was real, including my love for him.
…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. ~ Romans 5:8-9
It is God who is holy, and it is God who (rightly) judges sin and sinners. It is God in the flesh, Christ, who alone can rescue us from His wrath. We are rescued by the one we fear could destroy us. Yes.
After the varied attempts and methods, always telling truth, Jonathan eventually woke up. There was a sweetness to it, especially because we indulged in brownies to awaken the senses (I shared only to set an example…purely to be an example. Really.). Everything about Jonathan changed when he woke up and realized he was going to be ok, and, to boot, there was pleasure in it he didn’t expect.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” ~ John 11:25-26
Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He had this exchange with Martha so the truth of Christ would be known while a miraculous awakening was occurring. Jonathan’s dream really isn’t a comparison here, but it’s interesting that Christ originally told the disciples that Lazarus was asleep and needed to be awakened. He then revealed he was actually dead. In doing so, Christ shows that His power to physically raise people from the dead is exercised with no more effort than to awaken a person from sleep. In this midst of knowing all this, and what He would do, Christ still has the compassion to weep. Actually weep.
Only Christ can awaken you from our dead sleep in sin, and give new life. It is not hard for Him. It is incredibly loving of Him. He uses different means for different folks, but the truth of God’s Word is never absent when faith is birthed.
Fathers & Sons…
I don’t know how long Jonathan will perceive me as a superhero-empowered father, but it gives me pleasure that he thinks I can do just about anything. I know it’s not true. The astounding thing is, though, that what I do actually have the power to do (love, provide, reassure, play, discipline, show mercy, etc…) I fail at doing all the time. I’m weak. I’m a sinner. I’m a dad.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” ~ Luke 11:13
For every fast dream I can help relieve my son from, only His Heavenly Father can rescue him from the real nightmare of sin, hell, and purposelessness. Jonathan only has to ask. By God’s grace, Jonathan still asks me to give him relief when he’s terrified. My prayer is that by God’s greater grace, He will cause my son to call out to Him one day, to awaken him, rescue him, deliver him, and give him great joy.
When I laid Jonathan down and told him he’d be fine, his response was to grab me and say he “double, double, double loved me.” Now, I don’t know what the emotional quotient of 2-cubed love is actually, but for me he might as well have said, “to infinity and beyond.” I was genuinely taken aback by it. It was so unprovoked by any stimulus (not even an “I love you” from me first) except the rescuing event.
Back up at Romans 5:8, the Scriptures say we are loved first by God, and his love initiative is the redemption of sinners.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:18-19
Circling all the way back to fear, once rescued, all the fear is gone and supplanted by love, God’s redeeming love. This doesn’t happen without His divine initiative to rescue us.
While a wonderful experience last night launched me to some Godward reflection, there’s a huge gap in this narrative as it correlates to what God has done and what it provokes in us. Here it is: I had no idea my son was terrified until I heard the whimpers and the creaking door. In reality, God alone knows, and His kindness is to cause us to realize the horror around us and the terror before us, if we do not run to Him. I could only respond to my son’s initiative. God initiates, terrorizes, awakens, rescues, and gives us such delight that He must become our greatest, double-double-double-love kind of, pleasure.
Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
One thought on “Night Terrors and the Grace of God”
Thank you Mike for sharing this story and reminding me that even though I have no control that our God does and HE is always there to rescue us even on our sleep. I really needed to hear this message for a reminder I’m not alone in my walk sleeping or awake. Love you