“Dad, I don’t want you to go. I’m just so scared of the darkness…”
This is a common refrain at bedtime with the eldest.
Part of it, I’m sure, is just his little way of trying to manipulate me into staying with him just a little bit longer. Most times, he’s successful. I’ll admit, I’m essentially powerless when he looks up at me with those big, brown doe eyes (his mom’s eyes – and yes, I’m equally powerless against her). But part of it is a genuine fear.
Now, I understand that this is a somewhat normal phase that most (if not all) kids go through at some point in their development, but that knowledge doesn’t make things any easier in the moment. As his dad, all I want to do is make it OK, so I try to tell him that there’s nothing to be scared of. I tell him the monsters in his dreams aren’t real, that mommy and daddy are right down the hall, that God made the dark just the same as the light and it’s nothing to be scared of, but none of that really seems to calm him. Even as I’m telling him, I can see the reflection of the nightlight in those big brown eyes. They seem to dart from object to object around the room, hyper-aware of every shadow.
In fact, nothing I say seems to make much difference at all in those moments in the darkness
So I just stay, because it’s all that I know to do. I lie next to him, maybe place a hand lightly on his back or shoulder (he is most definitely NOT one for cuddling), and feel the tension go out of his muscles as his breathing slows and his blinks get longer and longer. Occasionally, he’ll startle, turn quickly to make sure that I’m still there, touch my hand or my face, and then continue reassured on his descent toward sleep.
He finds peace, so I stay.
This time, there’s no heroic beating back of the darkness, no grand gesture or magic word that’s going to make the darkness any less terrifying to a three-and-a-half-year-old with an imagination that would make Walt Disney jealous.
So I just sit with him in it, and that’s enough.
And suddenly, it strikes me that this is, in some small way, akin to the nature of love, of God, of Immanuel, God with us. Often when I am in my darkest places, there are no miracles, there are no visions or words from heaven. There is simply the promise of a God who is with us, who suffers with us, who mourns with us, and who comforts us. Where a word might fall on deaf ears, and a sign might go unseen or misinterpreted, maybe it’s simply presence that matters in the end.
Maybe peace isn’t to be found in a God who can say the right things to me, or do the right things for me.
Maybe it’s found in a God who just meets me where I am and simply sits with me there.
Perhaps the next time I find myself going to one of those dark places, I should remember how my own son finds peace in the presence of his father, even on the darkest of nights.