“Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee.” Proverbs 1:8 (The Message)
Anyone who has ever witnessed a night terror firsthand realizes how intense they can be. When it’s your four-year-old child, it’s heartbreaking. Earlier that night, we had cuddled in my bed playing the “Thank You, Jesus” game before tucking him securely in his own bed. Two hours later, he’s sobbing hysterically, “Momma, help me, help me” over and over, shaking uncontrollably, and trying to push against me while simultaneously frantically searching for me. It’s gut wrenching to watch, even more traumatic to the person trying to comfort and calm.
Thankfully, the episodes typically last less than 30 minutes and occur infrequently. Soon he melts against my body, soothed by either my voice, words, or calming touch and drifts back to a peaceful sleep. Some mornings I will ask him if he had any dreams last night and usually the response is a calm, “Nope. I had no dreams.” So, whatever the torment that was experienced, mercifully only the parents are left with the memory.
I take most of parenthood in stride. Late night feedings? Exhausting but temporary. Potty training? Not much fun but necessary. Boundaries, discipline, and consequences? Definitely part of the program. However, listening to your child scream in terror and being unable to calm him down ranks up there with torture. Pure torture.
This last episode left me heartbroken. Not for him. He was fine…really. And regarding night terrors, I realize they’re an unpleasant aspect of some childhood experiences, but they too will pass. No, I was brokenhearted because of what the night terrors symbolized to me.
My job as a parent is to protect my children. My job is to guide them, instruct them, and most importantly, give them plenty of opportunities to learn what it means to have a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father. Ultimately, my children will be the ones to choose whether or not they want to pursue that relationship for themselves, but it’s my job to introduce it and be the best example of what God’s love is for them.
Our littlest, in the innocence and purity of childhood, has asked Jesus into his heart. He includes in his daily prayer, “Thank You, Jesus, for dying on the cross and living in my heart.” However, just because he says the words, doesn’t mean he completely understands what he is saying. Do I believe he meant it when he prayed and asked Jesus to take control of his life? Absolutely. However, I also know that there is more to being a true Christ follower than saying some words – it’s a lifetime of learning, growing, and developing that one-on-one relationship with Jesus. Learning what makes Him happy. Learning what makes Him sad. Slowly changing our actions, thoughts, and behaviors to ones that please Jesus simply because we love Him and obeying Him is the top priority in our lives.
Do I think my little one is going to Heaven someday? Yes. He prayed the prayer and he is beginning to understand what that means. He has a heart that wants to make Jesus happy. He is beginning to show the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.) in his daily life and He is eager and happy to learn more about God, demonstrating he wants to make Jesus happy with the choices he makes.
However, I’m also wise enough to realize something more important. As we talked about in No Fillers…Only the Real Thing,I would be doing my children a disservice if I don’t spend as much time teaching them how to develop their own relationship with their Savior as I do teaching them how to wash clothes, make meals, and find the best bargain at the grocery store. It needs to be something personal between them and God, not relying on what mom and dad believe to get them through. Because, when the tough stuff comes, and it will come, they need to have personal experiences in their own life to fall back on. I’m inspired by reading stories that others’ tell regarding miracles that have occurred in their lives, but I’m changed when God gives me the blessing of having a miracle in my own life.
I want to encourage every parent or mentor or grandparent out there today. Spending time making memories with our kids is so important and they are moments we will all remember fondly. However, taking the time to teach our children about God’s great love for them and how He’s waiting to develop a strong personal relationship with them is a spiritual gift you can give that will keep on giving.
Thankfully, night terrors will someday be a distant memory. Until then, instead of letting my heart break every time we go through the experience, I will use it to remind me once again of the important job God granted me when He chose to allow me to be a parent.
© Cheri Swalwell 2014