I’ve always had problems sleeping. I’ve battled insomnia, sleepwalking (as a child), and bizarre dreams. As a child I would occasionally wake up in a confused state; my visual perception was skewed so that things appeared distant and my movements seemed exaggerated or sped up. I would sometimes experience mild tremors that pulsed through my body. This state was also accompanied by nonsensical reoccurring dreams. During these incidents I would navigate my way downstairs and alert my parents in a confused manner that something was wrong. My father would often be the one to get out bed to deal with his confused son. I clearly remember lying on the couch as he calmly rubbed my back, waiting for the incident to end. I remember abruptly sitting up on the couch to babble nonsense or look out the picture window that was situated overhead. My father would graciously stay with me until I calmed down and the tremors went away.
Although those episodes have long passed, a good night’s sleep is still sometimes hard to come by. We have a baby who still cries at night, and a 5-year-old daughter who occasionally cries loudly in her sleep. I often wake up multiple times for no good reason or struggle to fall asleep. Another disruptive, yet enduring, nighttime event occurs when my son stumbles out of bed at night, stomps rather loudly down the hall, comes to the side of my bed, and tells me that he’s had a bad dream. My initial irritation with being woken up is quickly offset by the realization that my son is scared and finds comfort with his father. I usually call out to him so that he can find me in the dark, tell him that it’s just a dream, give him a hug, and walk him back to his room. He is typically sleeping again as soon as his head hits the pillow. Crisis averted, but such an event only increases my fatigue the next day.
These anecdotes reveal two very important elements about life as a Christian. First, it provides a picture of how fathers graciously interact with their children and do not ignore their needs. Of course, I am imperfect and fall short in my duties as a father (that’s another blog entry). I get tired, grumpy, impatient, and often cannot simultaneously comfort or closely interact with all my children. God has none of these deficiencies. He is perfectly loving, merciful, just, sovereign, holy, unchanging, all knowing, and always present (just to mention a few of his attributes). His love never fails; it endures forever (Ps 136). Whereas I don’t want to be woken up at night, God is always graciously there waiting. I put my son back to bed as quickly as possible; God is not limited by time or fatigue.
Yet, just as we can use personal experiences to better understand God, we can also use them inappropriately. When we inaccurately apply human characteristics to God, we engage him as a flawed, albeit powerful, being. We may think of God sitting in the sky, not having the time or desire to deal with our “meaningless” lives. Or we think that he is angrily judging everything we do wrong, and so we run from him rather than to him. We forget about grace, atonement, and our adoption into God’s family. We fail to see that the very best in us is immeasurably less than the goodness and lovingness of God. We forget that he is always present, waiting for us to run to him. His embrace will be immeasurably greater than that of our human fathers.
Second, it illustrates the need that children have for their father. Like I needed my father and my son needs me, we need our heavenly Father. The act of needing is not done apathetically nor accompanied by stubborn self-reliance or pride. At times it is done in a manner that is much like my son’s desperate stomping in the middle of the night. The reasons for such desperation are wide ranging. Perhaps we are suffering, anxious, confused, or afraid. Perhaps we’ve done our own thing too long and find ourselves at a point where our only option is to run back to our Father. Regardless of the reason, a loving Father awaits. Other times our need is acted out in a manner comparable to when my daughter tiptoes into my bedroom around 7:00 on a weekend morning, politely crawls to where my wife once slept, and we doze off and on until it is time to get up. Neither of us are particularly talkative in the morning; she just seems to like being nearby. Maybe we should all start our day by drawing near to our Father. It might even eliminate some moments when we have to stomp back to Him in desperation.
Such an act requires a degree of humility that can be conveyed with anecdotes about young children calling out for their human father. But as adults we often become self-reliant so that acknowledging our need to commune with God contradicts much of what we do in life. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Christ instructed his disciples to become like little children (Matthew 18). There is something very childlike in desperately running or quietly coming near to our Heavenly Father. I could use more of that childlike humility in my life.