"And Jesus took the children in his arms and began touching them and He blessed them" Mark 10: 16
Sparkling lights danced and flashed on our un-curtained windows outside our 17th floor hotel room, as we had only candles lit in the darkness of late night. Joy was curled up, exhausted from finishing 6 hours of classes in two weeks, gown-bedecked, with feet dark from the sandy beach we had just walked.
Grabbing a warm, soapy cloth, I gently began to wash her small, feminine feet, with only acoustic strings filling the silence in quiet comfort.
Next, I squeezed citrus lotion in circles and began to massage her toes, bottom of feet and quietly talked to her of how happy my heart was to share in these precious moments with her.
"Mama, I have always, always loved ending my days with your blessing and love. It makes my heart peaceful," whispering to me as she snuggled and curled more deeply into the soft comforter atop our bed. This little interlude filled my mama heart a couple of weeks ago when I had a week long trip in California that literally ended with joy.
This brought to mind another such hotel visit, the first time I heard her say out-loud to others how years of intentional "good-nighting" had born lasting, loving fruit in her heart.
Speaking at the Military Regional Women's Conference in Hawaii a couple of years ago, I took Joy as my companion, as Clay and I decided long ago I would never travel alone. Someone asked Joy, then 16, to share how to reach the heart of your child or teenager, and she replied. "Every night, no matter what, I knew that my mom would come to my bed and spend time with me and talk with me and pray with me before I went to bed. It was our time, where I could pour out my fears, my secrets, my confessions and my dreams. If you want to win your teen, you need to give them time to talk to you and bed time is a great time to do that."
I was a little surprised to hear her answer, that out of all the things we did, the evening close with a blessing, came to her mind. But, early in our marriage, we heard someone speak about bed time being an important time for children. Clay and I were very intentional about creating our own routines.
When Joy was born amidst 3 older, demanding siblings, I determined that I would spend an extended time with her every night before she went to sleep. No matter what a day has held: fussing, conflict, excitement, drudgery, joy, celebration, hard work, putting the day to end well is a wise endeavor.
When we understand this idea of blessing our child each night before they go to bed, it carries with it the idea of giving our children a peaceful heart. We give love to our child's heart when we tie all loose ends together with unconditional love by blessing them every night, putting to rest all of the burdens of the day and giving them into the hands of God. Every day, we ended in words of love and grace.
No matter what has transpired through out the day, we can close it by speaking to our child's heart. "I love you no matter what. Forgive me for my impatience today, please? Or I forgive you for your disobedience today. You are very precious to me. I am blessed to have you. You may go to sleep without bearing anger, or a guilty conscience, or fear, because I love you and God loves you and He will be with you. Sleep in peace, my precious."
Bedtime can be such a burden for an exhausted mom. Understanding that everyone's adrenalin is down helped me to remember not to react to conflict at night, but to wait for the next day to face problems head on, when everyone's bodies were more capable of dealing with issues.
Please do not picture that our bedtimes were without struggle, but I think when you are intentional about making it an anchor of the day and guiding and leading your children into an expectation of the end of the day being relational, it becomes a grace to all that has transpired. But, bedtime gives our children one last impression of their whole day and it is a redeeming time of bringing and restoring and offering peace.
Clay and I had elaborate bedtime routines for our children when they were young so that they knew what was coming, and more easily submitted to the routine. As Nathan had some ocd about bedtime, we knew that if he could not remember the prayer and the kiss, he would not be able to go to sleep. So often, I would repeat a short prayer and say, "Now, I want you to remember this time, how much I love you and God loves you."
And now I well realize that children do not stay in this stage forever and one more kiss did not hurt me.
The Routine-- Bathtime, books, and the blessing
I had a very large tub in a couple of my homes. We would put the kids in with every imaginable toy in the world--whatever it took to keep them their and to give them a place to give up one last surge of energy. (Please be sure to only trust age appropriate children to be by themselves--young toddlers and babies should, of course, never be left alone!)
During this time, I would sit down and rest and read or have a cup of something, even if the dishes were still in the sink or the house was not cleaned up. I would just spend a few minutes restoring myself, because I wanted to be available to extend the last moments of the day blessing the kids.
Then we would take turns getting the children out, pajama'd, teeth brushed. Finally, if all was done in an orderly manner, we gathered in the living room, or a child's bedroom for a short read aloud from a child's story book. This routine of expectation helped them to understand that bedtime and sleep time was coming. Our children seemed to thrive more easily on routine.
After we read, we would send the kids to the bathroom one last time, and then each child would be tucked into bed personally, touched or stroked on a forehead and prayed for and kissed. Every night we gave an "I love you," or "I am so very blessed to have you," or some intentional words of acceptance and encouragement."
I think positive peer pressure works well here. If you train your first child to this routine, "Now it is bedtime. We have bathed, read, prayed and now you get such a privilege--you get to snuggle in your lovely bed with your soft, cuddly stuffed animals and go into dreamland."
We always talked sweetly of their beds and made them as delightful as possible. When all the children work in routines together, the younger ones tend to follow the routine without much of a fuss. We often used words like, "You are growing so strong inside. You go to bed like a big boy or girl."
During the teen years..... Often, as our children became older, the bedtime routines became longer because it meant night time talks in their rooms, sharing of hearts and secret fears, struggles, temptation. Yet, with so many older children in our lives, discussing issues all day long, I knew that Joy would need "just me" time. From the very beginning, I would rock her and sing to her many songs and cherish her at night to make up for any distractions during the day. I would lay with her on her bed and talk and pray with her and this became our own special time.
Though it did require a commitment of heart and time on my part, as often we were ready to put the day away for our "own" time, I see now that this giving and ending with love meant so much to all of our children--and especially her, because she had to compete with older siblings all day long.Though, at times I was so exhausted and drained, and I did not feel like doing the routine, one more time, I had practiced it as a life habit, and kept it going, every night, and so it became a foundation of my being close to my children--they grew to expect it.
Even now, it is sweet to see when the older kids are home, they all come upstairs to my bedroom--now they put me to bed, because they are staying up longer than me! Joel often sits on my bed for a half hour, just sharing his thoughts. It has become special to me--that my twenty something kids still come for a blessing, still want our affirmation and still won't go to sleep without the kiss and prayer.
Routines are often difficult to establish, but when cultivated, they become a habits that give life, love and security. It is still a gift to me that I now get to share the sweet fellowship of my best friends, my children, when they are home, to tie together all the lose ends, in love and peace.
And so with all the mom's conference this season, and the wedding this weekend, many gathering on hotel beds with all the kids involved, will be my secret very best time at the conferences--all of us together, laughing, sharing, praying, loving, clothed in jammies and gowns, and hidden from the world, just being best friends and closing the night with a blessing and peace.