When our first child was born, Rob and I quickly realized the all-consuming nature of baby bedtime routines. After the evening feeding, Rob swaddled our little girl snuggly, hoisted her high onto his shoulder and slow danced her through the kitchen to the melodies of old church songs and Crosby Stills and Nash.
As she quieted in his arms, Rob gingerly tiptoed into our apartment bedroom to lay our sweet girl down to sleep. Swaying before her little crib, he slowly lowered her into bed, a deep knee bend worthy of any yoga instructor’s praise. He held his breath so even that would not wake her.
But no sooner had her head touched the mattress, our baby’s eyes sprung open. She locked gaze with Rob and let out the wail of one who feared banishment forever. Alone? In a crib? Sleep? Never! Back he’d head to the kitchen dance floor to start all over again. “Just let yourself fall asleep,” we’d plead with her, as if she could understand us.
Giving in to Sleep
After weeks of this routine, there eventually came a night where baby’s belly was full enough and her body tired enough that she’d give in quickly to sleep. Rob lay her down in the crib and backed slowly out of the room, waiting to exhale until he crossed the bedroom threshold. For the rest of the evening, we sat in anticipation. Would she wake up? Would this be the wondrous night we’d heard so much about — the night our little daughter would sleep a full eight hours for the first time?
The longer we sat, the more the quiet surprised and unsettled us a little. Was she okay in there? Should we be watching her? What was previously relief evolved into worry. We poked heads in, letting our eyes adjust to the bedroom’s darkness. Yes, her little chest rose and fell with the rhythms of her sleep. She was just fine. After many nights of bedtime struggle, she was finally resting in peace.
Asleep in Christ
Rob and I often talked about the different ways we name death — crossed over, died, passed away, resting in peace. We both particularly loved the Apostle Paul’s phrase “asleep in Christ.” Its subtle eschatology expressed our faith, and its gentle imagery touched our hearts. The phrase conjured up images of our babies, wrapped in their swaddling blankets, curled up against Rob’s warm chest, swayed gently to and fro in his arms to the soft music of his calming voice. This solace, this comfort and rest, was what we longed for in our hour of death. Asleep, resting without care. Safe in the bosom of Jesus.
This past Sunday, August 9, marked a year since we laid Rob to rest in the little mountain cemetery in Washington. When I think of that day, I can’t help but see the parallels with those baby bedtime routines of long ago. Jesus took Rob into his arms in death. But in an earthly way, Rob’s burial was a bedding down. A little folding of the hands in sleep. August 9, 2019, was a bedtime ritual of its own.
As I think of Rob now, buried in that quiet cemetery 3,000 miles away, I’ve come to see his grave for what I know it really is — a resting place. When I become anxious about him or the physical distance between us, I remind myself that a year ago we repeated a ritual he and I did so many times with our babies over the years. We lay our beloved one down to rest, and we quietly stood back. Holding our breath, watching for signs that he was okay, allowing him to give himself fully to sleep. And when we saw that all was well, we walked away. A normal, natural pattern to bedding down writ painfully deep on our hearts. August 9, 2019, was the hardest bedtime routine I’ve ever enacted.
The Dawn to Come
Years ago, Rob and I were talking to our pastor and his wife, commiserating about child bedtime struggles. Why was it so hard to turn off the light at night? Why did our kids seem to fight sleep with every ounce of their beings? As adults, we saw rest as something to embrace. Our kids seemed to want to avoid it at all costs. “Every night is a little death,” my pastor mused. “And every waking in the morning, a resurrection.” His words struck me. No wonder it could be hard for our children to let go at night, to offer themselves up to the unknown vulnerabilities of slumber. The letting go necessary for restful sleep could be a mammoth endeavor.
August 9, 2019, was a day of mammoth letting go, a bedtime ritual deeply painful. I know that Rob is dead. I’m not afraid to use that word. However, neither am I afraid to say that Rob is asleep, asleep in Christ. And like Jairus’ daughter, like Lazarus, like Jesus himself, someday Rob will awaken. This burial, this bedding down is not the end. Someday, from his resting place, Rob will rise to see the dawning of the new creation, the rising of the Son of Righteousness with healing in his wings.
A year later, I’m still waiting for that day. I’ve laid my beloved to rest. I stand at the threshold of life’s door, holding my breath, waiting for signs that he is waking. In a curious twist to the old familiar bedtime routine, it is I who now fight the sleep that has overtaken him. I want Rob to wake up. I’ve never been more ready for resurrection.
Even so, I must say, “Beloved husband, just let yourself fall asleep.” You — and I — are safe in the arms of Jesus. You rest in peace. I wait in expectation. Both of us, for now, in these corruptible bodies. One day, together awakening to the passion, the glory, and the beauty of the incorruptible.
Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.