I cowered in the closet, clutching the baby in my arms. I could hear both men out there, searching, slow and dogged. I hugged the baby closer, silently begging it not to cry. The men had already killed everyone else in the house. Surely, I could save this one child. Click. Click. One came closer, stopped. I watched, my very breath fleeing my body, my heart clenching so hard it could burst, as the door creaked open.
I jerked awake, my pulse still stuttering and my breath ragged.
I’ve struggled with nightmares as long as I can remember. Some time periods are better, some worse, but the nights I don’t dream of someone chasing or trying to kill me or, more often, someone I care about, are relatively rare. And every now and then, I can tell when it is going to be a particularly bad night.
Last month, Daniel and I had been up late, as usual now that we don’t have to commute to work, and didn’t head up to bed until…well, late. But the second we clicked off the TV, I could feel it. The fear, twisting around my insides. It was going to be a bad night. I went through the motions of getting ready for bed, dread coiling around my heart like a spring as I eyed the bed, knowing the types of dreams that were waiting for me.
As the fear pressed tighter and tighter, I flung my head’s voice up to God. Why do you let this happen to me? I’ve prayed every single night for years that you would take the nightmares away, and you never do. You don’t care at all, do you? What good does this do me? It isn’t growing me in faith. It isn’t being a witness to others. Am I doing something wrong? If you really wanted to, you could let me have just one good dream. All I ask for is one night of peace. Is that too much?
By the time I curled up in bed, I’d worked myself mentally into a lather of fear for the night and anger at God for letting it happen. Daniel clicked off the light, and, like a cue, I could feel the darkness pressing in. I clenched my fists, tensed my body for a fight, and curled my toes under, struggling not to panic. I could almost see the shadows crawling toward me, ready to smother me.
I am a child of God. I whispered to myself. But, far louder, my head hissed, It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care.
I am a child of God. I repeated to myself, softer, less sure. You know He doesn’t care. Why do you try?
I am a child of God. But I was ready to give in. My throat was burning with swallowed tears, my body felt ready to collapse with dark tension. And then.
My husband apologized for making me upset.
All my fear unleashed itself in the form of anger. “What on earth are you talking about?” I spoke through clenched teeth, overwhelmingly angry at his assumption.
“Um. I suggested going to bed and upset you.” But his voice wavered with unsurety.
“It is not always about you,” I said in a clipped tone.
He was quiet for a moment. Then, in a far gentler tone than I deserved, tinged with confusion, “I know it’s not always about me.”
I was silent. Struggling between just wanting to get through the night and knowing my husband didn’t deserve my anger. It took all my strength to force myself to respond.
“The last time I was this scared to go to bed,” I spoke in so quiet a tone, still turned away from him, that I wasn’t certain he could hear me, “I dreamt that someone was trying to kill my father and killing everyone in the family who got in his way.” (This, by the way, was a different dream from the one recounted at the beginning—people being killed happens a lot—you never want to end up in one of my dreams. It’s usually deadly)
He was still a moment, and then, “You’re scared to go to sleep?”
I didn’t respond, and hoped he could sense the resentment in my silence. I was pretty sure I’d already said that, and more words seemed both unnecessary and unobtainable.
But he didn’t need me to respond. He basically bounced out of bed. “Then we won’t go to sleep yet.” He flipped on the light and went downstairs. I remained, curled in the fetal position, sure that whatever he had planned wouldn’t make a difference.
He reappeared a few minutes later with a Bible, Jeeves and Wooster short stories, and some whiskey. He set the whiskey next to me, laid down the books, and then helped me sit up, propping a pillow behind me, and giving me Funshine Bear – the Care Bear that usually graces our bed during the day. I clutched that bear so hard, I’m surprised its head didn’t come off. Then he turned on some worship music, and prayed over me, asking God to take away my bad dreams.
I found my voice long enough to inform him that I had been praying that prayer all my life and God had never answered it, so He wasn’t likely to now. I’ll give him credit—Daniel took my angry response in stride, and chose to write down the prayer and add it to our prayer wall. I refused to add anything to the prayer, but he took that in stride too.
With all that done, he sat down next to me, flipped open to Psalms and began reading. I don’t know how long I sat there, only half listening, unable to even move, constrained by fear and anger, before some of the words began penetrating, but I would guess it was at least half an hour. I still don’t know what section of Psalms he was reading, since he made it all flow like one long, love letter, but I remember the general idea as I finally started actually hearing it. David was crying out to God, alone, scared, wondering why he’d been abandoned. And then he would progress into praises for God, despite his fears. As the symbolism of that hit me, I took a shuddering breath, and my shoulders relaxed a little. Shortly after, I was able to move enough to sip from the drink Daniel had given me. An hour or so later, I was breathing normally again, and my heart and stomach were no longer clenched. And my Care Bear escaped my attempts at decapitation.
I don’t know what time it was when Daniel and I finally went to bed, and I slept without fear, following a mumbled apology to God for being mad, but I do know my husband deserves a trophy for being able to get up for work in the morning. For anyone curious, yes, I did dream that night, and I’m pretty sure it was about someone chasing me, but it wasn’t one of the really scary ones, and I woke up feeling rested.
So, what’s the point in all this? Why am I telling you this story? Other than telling you my husband is a saint, that is? Well. It’s twofold. One, I wanted to share one of my daily (or…nightly?) struggles. No matter how well life seems to be going, no matter what you see on social media about someone else’s life, you never know what else might be going on, so if God ever puts someone in your mind, say a quick prayer for them.
And two, I feel like I relearned a lesson that night. In the darkness of the night, in the “three o’clocks”* of life, when it feels like God is far away or, as David says in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season and am not silent”, it can be hard to remember that, even then, He is still worthy of praise.
He is still our creator. He is still just. He is still there. We have no idea what results He might have planned for what we are going through. We don’t know if He is saving us from something worse by putting us through something hard. We don’t know if He is teaching us the meaning of joy and praise in all circumstances. But we do know that He is still God.
David continues that Psalm with, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee and were delivered…”
He is still holy, and still worthy of our praise, even if the nightmares continue to come. Who knows? Maybe he even used my nightmares to encourage someone else today.