Michelle Martin

In the dark

Thursday, November 9, 2017

It was two o’clock in the morning, or maybe three. Teresa and I were curled up in a hotel bed, softer and probably objectively more comfortable than our beds at home, but still unfamiliar.

Across the room, Tony and Frank were snoring in the other bed. Teresa rolled over, sat up and said, “What?”

I pulled her back down, stroked her hair to settle her, and said, “Nothing. I love you.”

She went back to sleep.

I was awake a few minutes longer, listening to my family sleeping around me until I also went back to sleep.

It was a moment in the dark in the midst of a weekend hockey tournament, three days of teenage boys and cold ice rinks and too much restaurant food. 

There was really no reason Teresa had to come on the weekend. She could have stayed home with one parent while the other went with Frank. But she’s young enough that going to stay in a hotel, getting to stay up late and go to the pool, is exciting enough to make it worthwhile for her, and we like to travel as a family as much as we can.

Doing things together — even things we could do separately more easily — is one way to build family bonds, to create the memories that will turn into family stories years down the road, the ones that our children will tell each other as their own children sit around and get bored listening to their parents reminisce.

But traveling also means sometimes waking up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar noises. When that happens, what Teresa needs is reassurance that she is safe and loved.

That’s what we all need, throughout our lives. Children usually get that sense of security from their parents: the knowledge that they are cared for, that they matter, that they are not alone, even when the world seems dark.

As people of faith, we get that from our relationship with God. Jesus called God the Father “Abba,” casting him in the role of an affectionate parent, not a cold, distant authority figure. Over and over in the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers that children are valuable, are to be cared for and loved, and should be their models in faith.

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:3-5).

When I wake up in the middle of the night, it helps to remember that I am not alone either. I can reach out in prayer — sort of the equivalent of sitting up in bed and saying, “What?”