Stay awake and pray for the baby!
One of my most memorable experiences from childhood is thinking that my baby sister was going to die. It was Sunday afternoon, an afternoon my parents usually rested. My two little sisters were also napping. But I was not sleepy. I was scared. That afternoon, when I told them I wasn’t sleepy, my parents told me, “Stay awake and pray for the baby while we try to sleep.” So I did.
My till-then healthy baby sister had recently enjoyed supplemental bottles of juice, which she liked better than nursing. She had decided she preferred this easier way of feeding and refused my mother’s breast. I remember vividly the scary time of my mom trying formula after formula with her, trying to end my sister’s hunger strike. She seemed to be allergic to everything. And she refused to return to the breast. Allergies have become so much more understood now, but they were unknown territory for my parents.
This was fifty-five years ago, and my baby sister was dying of constant diarrhea.
She was dehydrating. Finally, the doctors told my parents they needed to keep her alive by feeding her rice water until her little system calmed down. Rice water. The rest of the family seemed to eat endlessly the rice this water had boiled.
I remember having permission to sit in the living room, normally off limits for me and saved for guests. Because of its big clock, I was allowed to sit there. I needed to pray until the clock registered the appointed time for my family to wake up.
I watched the hands of the clock continuously, and they never seemed to move.
Though I saw that the hands somehow moved to a different place on the clock, I could not catch them moving. It was perplexing. And fascinating. I moved closer and closer to the clock, studying it. I needed to see the hand move. In later years those minutes that seemed everlasting during that hour or two have reminded me of my adult prayer life. How often doesn’t it feel that God is taking forever to answer a prayer? And since we can’t know at first if he’s saying no or saying to wait, the waiting feels the same.
That day when my parents told me to stay awake and pray for the baby, I’m sure they were needing to occupy their five-year-old. But whether I was able to pray effectively or not, my parents taught me the importance of prayer to them. My staying awake and praying had no huge significance like the disciples who were asked to stay awake and pray with Jesus. But it did have the significance of reinforcing the truth that God is sovereign. Only he could heal my baby sister. The doctors’ earlier attempts had not been successful, and my parents knew God was in charge. That day I watched the clock more than anything else, but I did stay awake and pray for the baby.
My baby sister did recover, and I never forgot the day I was the only one in the house awake praying for her.
A few years ago in a gorgeous mountain setting, the contrast between God’s grandeur and our human neediness struck me.
We were vacationing with a young family with charming children. All of us were excited to be together and were loving the surroundings. Then the oldest daughter confided her fear of death for herself and for her parents. Her sudden feelings of neediness surprised me.
A few minutes before, she had been happily swinging and loving being outdoors. But the coming nightfall brought to her mind her recurring nightmares.
Her nightmares repeatedly told her that she was going to die and be punished. This little girl had committed her life to Jesus and was regularly reading her children’s Bible. But Satan was still planting fears and doubts in her mind.
Having recently lost my beloved mother-in-law to death, I was able to share with this little one the power of knowing that my loved one is currently in heaven with Jesus.
I told her how much I still missed Mom and that many people do, but that Mom is now forever happy with Jesus. My little friend loved the image of happiness after death.
I reminded her of Revelation 3: 20. Jesus tells us, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
I reminded her that she had asked him into her heart. She could trust Jesus that he would keep his promise.
I also told her the story of my experience of neediness and fears when I had been about her age.
My best friend’s mom, a good friend of our family, had died after being confined to a wheelchair for many years with rheumatoid arthritis.
I had been distraught. Inconsolable. My parents had repeatedly shared encouragement and verses from scripture, but I just had not been able to take comfort from them. My emotional neediness took center stage.
Then God gave me a dream.
In my dream I saw Aunty Libby walking toward me with a glowing face and a look of indescribable joy. Not only was she walking, but she looked healthy in a way I had never seen her in life.
I was so excited that I ran to her, calling her name. She did not hear me but continued walking forward with an ecstatic look on her face.
When I turned to look at what she was walking toward, I saw indescribable beauty. The only way I can attempt to describe it is that I saw a very bright light that was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
I threw myself down on the ground in awe. Obviously I was way too young to have read anything about people at the end of life seeing bright lights, or people lying face down in worship. But somehow that’s what I experienced.
When I woke up and saw my family at breakfast, I was so excited: “Aunty Libby’s in heaven! Aunty Libby’s in heaven!”
My parents expressed surprise, since they had both been working unsuccessfully to convince me of that. God had seen my stubborn disbelief in my grief and had reached out to give me a dream to illustrate his truth and answer my neediness.
That dream forever canceled any fears I could have of death. The pain of suffering before death can still cause dread, but death itself has always seemed a wonderful transition ever since that dream.
I shared this dream with my little friend and read her some of the description of the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21.
She was comforted. But what seemed to strike her most was my actual happiness that Mom is now in heaven. That though I still miss her, I rejoice for her.
My little friend’s face lit up as she heard my stories. She said, “I don’t think I’m going to have nightmares anymore. But will you still pray with me before bed?”
From then on, I prayed with her every night–that Satan would not disturb her sleep. Every morning she excitedly told me that she had slept so well with “NO NIGHTMARES!”
She practically danced into the breakfast room. And I was grateful that God had shown his power in canceling her fears and giving her joy. His unconditional love for us is amazing.
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