My Soul to Take

“Now I lay me down to sleep…”

The words to the children’s bedtime prayer form in my mind and perhaps, even upon my lips.  But again, as always before, they flow no further.

I may possibly lay my body down in the bed, my head on the pillow which is hardened and packed down by many nights spent as this one seems likely to be–tossing and turning, but I will be pursuing sleep that is just out of reach.

My brain is full of questions.

I am not, as you might suspect, concerned about the things one usually considers likely to render a person restless and tense.  I don’t worry about unpaid bills.  I don’t lie looking into the dark and wonder if that pain in my chest is the first warning of a heart attack.  I’m not worried that the things I’ve worked for all my life are likely to disappear tomorrow.

No.  Weightier matters occupy my thoughts.  There are questions involving people I love, concerns about decisions made and consequences to come.  I wrestle with why and what if and the ever present if only.

I have to force my mind away from the things that hold it hostage and will myself to continue the little poem.  It will be, no doubt, merely a temporary respite.

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

Now, that’s curious.  Do I keep my soul in the waking hours and the Lord keeps it when I sleep?

Where does our soul go when we sleep?  It’s not the kind of question a grown man should ask.  A child, now…

My mind remembers a little pudgy tow-headed boy, asking just such a question fifty years ago.  His older brother, never one to miss an opportunity to string the gullible child along, might have suggested that it hung in the air over his bed–ghostlike–awaiting his return from that dark world of sleep and dreams.

A trip downstairs to put the question to his parents resulted in the stock reply.

“Don’t be foolish!  Your soul is with you until you die.  Stop asking silly questions and go back to bed!”

So, the little blondie trudged back up the stairs to lie in his bed once more, questions still streaming through his head.  Every once in awhile, his eyes would fly open to gaze into the darkness, wondering if he would see his brother’s soul floating ethereally above the bed across the room.

Why is it foolish to ask questions?

What keeps us from discussing the less weighty matters with our children?

Perhaps, if we did, they would be more likely to feel comfortable talking with us about the important things when they get older.

I have spent a lifetime not asking the questions.  What would you think of me, if you were to find I’m not rock solid about this doctrine or that theory, or even some popular political dogma?  If I keep my doubts and cockeyed ideas to myself, you may continue to believe I’m a pillar of my community and a man to be respected.

So, I save my questions for the night and the dark.

Why does he…?

Is it really true that…?

Why can’t I change this…?

The ideas are racing once more and sleep is no closer.

Once again, I force my mind back to the short little verse.

“If I should die before I wake…”

No.  I won’t think about that.  It simply cannot be countenanced.  These people I love and worry about–what would they do if I were to die?  Who else cares enough?  Who else will be able to fix them? 

And just like that, the realization comes over me in a wave, and my objections are quieted.  It’s as if the Man in the boat stood up in the storm and spoke.

“Peace.  Be still.”

The realization is of a sense of place that admits there was wisdom and intelligence before I came.  There will be wisdom and intelligence after any tiny influence I may have is forgotten and erased.  My arrogance and worry won’t change that in any way.

I will die.  We all will.  I will leave a legacy, partly good and partly harmful.  I pray the good will outweigh the bad.  Perhaps you hope for the same thing.

“I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

There it is again.  That pesky soul that won’t stay put.  Now, the Lord will be not merely keeping, but taking it.  Come to think of it, that’s as it should be.

The Apostle said it in no uncertain terms, didn’t he?  When we’re absent from this body, we will be present with the Lord.

He will take it for me.  Faith in His grace has lead to an assurance of that.  But, before I let the thoughts begin to swirl once more, I remember the answer to one more question.

I don’t have to wait until I die for him to take it.

I certainly am no fit steward for such a thing, but He who holds the world in His hands, gives the gift of trust.  He cares for the flowers of the fields; is there any question He will watch over his own?

I wait for the storm of worry and questions to begin anew, as it invariably does.  Nothing.


Time for sleep.

Now I lay me down…

“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I shall die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
(From the New England Primer ~ 1784)

“Sometimes I stay up so late that I have my morning coffee before going to bed.”

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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