The line from "The Night Before Christmas" goes, "And Ma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled down for a long winter's nap."Some of us do not sleep much, but we make sure our children get plenty of sleep; it is good for them. By the time they are 18, children have spent about six years-a third of their time-sleeping. Can we redeem that time? Should we? Or is it enough to tuck them in and walk away?
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.
The Bible has quite a bit to say about sleep, and God has made promises concerning it. Childhood is a good time to teach our children to trust in those promises. We do that first by trusting in the promises ourselves. King David, for instance, in spite of considerable turmoil, could still say, "I laid me down and slept; I awoke; for the LORD sustained me" (Psalm 3:5; cf. 4:8). He knew that trusting in God and sleeping free of anxiety in times of trouble is not a native ability; it is a gift from God.
David knew his trust was well-placed: 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" (Psalm 121:2-4). Our sleep is a gift from our sleepless God (Psalm 127:1-2).
David's son Solomon knew that hard work is related to sound sleep. "The sleep of a laborer is sweet," he wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:12. Children who are being taught to work are also being taught how to sleep. Solomon also wrote in Proverbs that discernment and sound judgment will lead to sound sleep. "When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet." Children who are being taught obedience to the commands of God are being taught to sleep sweetly (Proverbs 3:21-24).
We should be teaching our children to trust in God, work hard, and obey him throughout their lives. 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. Parents who are consistent Christians throughout the day have a wonderful opportunity to secure and anchor at bedtime what they have demonstrated over the course of the day.
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, "Now I lay me down to sleep."
At bedtime when our children were young, 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 more than a fearful request for God to do something that we didn't think he would be willing to do. They were an authoritative benediction. When God has promised something, we as parents have the authority to minister God's promised blessings to our children. Doing so is an exhibition of trust, not presumption.
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. When children see their parents believing in God and his promises, it provides a basis for godly imitation as they learn to trust God themselves. Their sense of security is strengthened and built up because they see the basis of all such security-faith in Christ-lived out in front of them.
When we are awake, we are especially vulnerable to our delusional notions of self-sufficiency. But when we sleep, we are completely and totally helpless. That is why learning trust at bedtime is so important. Sleep gives us a glimmer of our true condition: We are needy and we need someone else to care for us. An attitude of trust developed here can then carry over into our "daytime" lives.
We should not teach our children to expect "visions of sugarplums" while they sleep. Rather, let us teach them to cultivate love of God, which alone can make their sleep sweet.