Unless the Lord Builds Bedtime

As a parent of young adults – as well as an eight-year-old – I know firsthand how hard parenting can be. No matter how many parenting books you read or how much advice you seek from others, there are simply times when it feels like parenting is an unsolvable mystery.

Bedtime RoutineI really thought when my youngest, Eli, was born nearly nine years ago, that I might possibly, maybe, perhaps finally have my wits about me when it came to raising a child since I’d already parented several others. I could look back and see the many, many mistakes I’d made with my older kids and now…I had a chance to try again and avoid those mistakes!

By God’s grace, I actually have avoided several of the mistakes I made as I raised my older kids, before I knew Christ. But I’ve compensated for that by making plenty of new ones.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting, though, it is that it’s all God’s work, oftentimes graciously mediated through our efforts, but never because we’re particularly great at parenting in and of ourselves. In fact, that truth came home to me again recently.

Our bedtime routine with Eli has always been an elaborate, extended process that involves reading, praying and singing. When he was about two years old, I began singing the Doxology to him as a way of “speaking theology” into his life. A few years later, we added “I Love You Lord” to our nightly routine, perhaps simply because I was tired of singing the same song over and over again. At some point, my husband started singing “Gloria Patri,” a song from his days as a kid in church. Still later, “Amazing Grace” became a part of our routine. This is one of his favorites and he often requests that it be included in the routine. Because it’s a longer song – depending on how many verses you sing – I have often suspected that he likes this particular song as a way of delaying the inevitable “lights out” moment.

I confess that, for some time, I’ve been getting mildly annoyed at the sheer amount of time required to go through our nightly bedtime routine. Read a book? Absolutely. Pray together? Yes, that seems like a good idea. Sing? Okay. All three songs? Put it all together and it just takes so danged long…and often enough, I’m not even sure he’s paying attention as I’m singing.

Now I know better. (Remember, I’m still learning.)

The other day, Eli was entertaining a couple of preschool-aged kids that I was caring for that day, and he asked me to print off the words to the three bedtime-routine songs that have endured through the years. When I asked him why he wanted the lyrics, he explained that he and the other kids were playing a game where he was the Dad, they were the kids, and he said, “I want to sing to the kids before I put them to bed.” Of course, I provided him with the lyrics and, song sheets in hand, he returned to his room and began singing them to sleep. He sang all three songs to the kiddos as they obediently lay tucked in their “beds.”

And it occurred to me that I’d completely missed the significance of this long-held ritual in his life. I was primarily focused on the way in which our son could be using the drawn-out process to delay his own need to get some sleep. While this might be his motivation sometimes, this playful interaction helped me realize that being sung to nightly was also a memory we have been making that he would likely carry with him into adulthood, and maybe even repeat with his own children. And how better to end my child’s day than to “speak theology” into the dark as he drifts off to sleep?

I’m glad I didn’t make yet another mistake and end this routine a few years ago as a way of making bedtime a more “efficient” process. I’m thankful beyond words that God’s work in my son’s life will be done, through my best efforts but more importantly, despite my best efforts.

Psalm 127
A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
 those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
 the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
 and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
 for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
 the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
 are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
 who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
 when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.


  1. Mona Pargee said:

    Thank you for sharing and thereby reminding us that God’s Word, in its various forms, does not return to Him void.

  2. Tessa Glenn said:

    Wow…no words, just beautiful

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