August 21, 2013
In a previous post, I talked about the prayers that I routinely sing with my children at bedtime. There’s another bedtime practice I seem to have developed lately: getting them riled up.
It goes like this: as my two children are going to bed, they each always want me to come in and sit on the bed with them for a minute. They get their hug and kiss, and we often sing the bedtime prayer. But lately another aspect has been added to the routine. As I’m lying there with them, I’ll often do silly things that get them giggling. All it takes with my 3 year old daughter is singing the “Bingo” song and substituting her name.
Sometimes, the routine ends with me walking out into the living room where my wife asks, “Why do you get them riled up at bedtime?”
My kids love it just because I’m being funny. But for me, in keeping with my contention that spirituality is not its own autonomous category, this bedtime laughter has become an important spiritual practice. (By the way, they go to sleep fine. In fact, I’m convinced my daughter falls asleep faster when I do it than when I don’t).
I’ve always loved hearing my kids laugh. Not the annoying, “I’m-picking-on-my-sibling” taunting laugh but the genuine, unrestrained belly laugh of a child. Some of my favorite home videos feature one or both of them laughing. And I usually love being the one to make them laugh. I didn’t realize it for a while, but this bedtime rile up (as my wife might call it) has become important, especially at the end of a hard day when there wasn’t much laughing otherwise. It has become something my children get me to do even when I don’t feel like it…and our relationship is all the better for it.
I have a bad habit of getting focused on other things, including on my day off when I’m home with my children. When I get into my task fixation mode, they become little more than annoying distractions from what I’m trying to do. I could be answering a work-related email, doing a house chore, or writing a blog post for Practicing Families. When I get into the zone, I’m not emotionally present to them. They can sense this and, almost without fail, begin to misbehave in order to get my attention. As you can probably guess, it all goes downhill from there.
Or I have days where I’m stressed out and have too much on my mind. I get up on the wrong side of the bed. If it happens to be a day that I’m going to be around my kids a lot, it’s usually ugly. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there have been a few days where I’ve been “that parent” in a grocery store or other public place, looking like I’m on edge and just below boiling point, tense and short, all but blowing up at my kids for doing the slightest thing.
But then at bedtime, that little voice asks me to come in and “sing the silly song.” It’s bedtime, and we’re supposed to be settling down. But I come in…and we belly laugh. I tickle them or play the game where I try to get up and they won’t let me. It’s here, during this short time, when they remind me again what a bump on a log I am who has forgotten how to enjoy life. It’s here where God reminds me that these young, joy-filled lives deserve more than being on the receiving end of my stress levels.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” (Ecc 12:1). On the flip side, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15).
These verses explain laughing with my children as a spiritual practice. Like peering into the blinding light of day after being asleep, my kids’ raw desire to live in the moment and laugh with me is my daily glimpse of the heart of God. As I live as a grown-up who has entered the “days of trouble,” often not knowing how to “find pleasure in them,” my children represent my best reminder.