By Rachel Dowda
I learn through movements, through textures and sounds; an overwhelming variety of sensory models. I can know something for years, and then I actually participate and it finally becomes a truth, like when Helen Keller touched water for the first time. I’m learning to let God be my Papa, to be personal and near and release Him from the bear-like tendencies He often has in my mind. He’s becoming more and more His true self, the way He has always been when removed from my assumptions and intellect. The God who is near in my fear and worries, the one who holds me against His chest and His heart beats, waxing and waning like the oceans against my cheek.
A few years ago I was asked to watch my friends’ kids. All I was supposed to do was get them in their pajamas, help them brush their teeth, tell them a few stories, tuck them in, pray over them, and then watch Netflix the rest of the time. It was rainy and the kids were drowsy so it was an easy night until I heard crying from the boys’ room. I walked into the dark and peeked over the edge of the bunk bed. The little boy looked at me with big, worried eyes and said, “Rachel, I feel so afraid. Will you stay with me?”
I climbed up the ladder and squeezed in next to him, under a little canopy with his nightlight reflecting galaxies over the fabric. ‘What’s wrong, baby?” I asked.
“My teeth are hurting me and I’m afraid they are all going to fall out," he whispered, his breathing quick and panicked. “Will you lay next to me until I fall asleep?” I could have been practical and logical, and tell him that his teeth are supposed to fall out and he’s worried for no reason and it’s time for bed, but instead I laid my head on his stuffed dragon and put my hand on his chest and whispered comforting words to him. Because fear is always real to the person experiencing it, and I felt an overwhelming amount of love for this little boy, love that pushed all practicality aside and made room for understanding and tenderness.
He laid there, with wide eyes and every time I spoke his eyes would get heavy and his breathing would slow. I would stop and they would pop right back open and he would touch his teeth and panic until I spoke to him again. Realizing this, I kept speaking. Eventually I could tell he was sleeping, and I tried to slide down the ladder, but he sat up immediately and cried out, “no! You need to stay with me!”. This cycle happened two more times before I realized that I just needed to make myself comfortable, with him snuggled up next to me. It was my pleasure, really. Alleviating someone’s fear is a gift and I was overwhelmed with understanding. My whole life I struggled with fear and so many nights I laid in bed, unable to sleep and too prideful to ask someone to stay. Even God. I laid there for almost an hour, drowsy and content, thankful to be someone’s saving grace.
So often I heard God climb the ladder to my bunk bed, and I whispered, "go away. You should be punishing me right now." Actually, I take that back--he’s not climbing up, but already there, laying next to me, with his head lying on my stuffed bear and all covered up with my floral sheets. But my back is turned to him, feeling like I should be suffering under the weight of uncertainty and a fear that has no root in reality. A fear that doesn’t envision him in my future.
Even a little progress needs to be celebrated and more and more I’m turning over to face Him, to acknowledge that He’s there, with His hand on my chest, His words calming me, putting me to sleep. Its hard to imagine God mad at you when you envision Him snuggled under a tent full of galaxies, on the top bunk, His hand resting over your heart. Thats a way more realistic view of him anyway. Every time He speaks I feel peace flood my body and eventually I sleep.