We used to teach children to say bedtime prayers by rote:
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
I don’t actually remember praying this prayer at bedtime– partly because it seemed morbid and the stuff of nightmares more than peaceful rest. Thankfully, my parents taught me more about praying than just this little prayer. We learned the Lord’s Prayer, and to lift up our friends and family to God’s care. We prayed for family stationed far from home, family members who were ill or suffering in some way, and for neighbors and classmates we cared about. We prayed for missionaries and the people and places that called them far away. We prayed for our nation and leaders. And we prayed confession, and thanksgiving, and worship, and intercession.
But I was reminded of this old prayer when I watched a video our aunt sent us the other day. It was a short documentary about a nature photographer who spent over 18 months building up trust with a wild cheetah in order to get “close up” shots of her in the wild– hunting, eating, resting, bathing. All was going well, until she disappeared on him. Several months later, a park ranger located her– and her five newborn cubs. The photographer knew he was taking a huge risk, but he drove his jeep (known to the mother cheetah), and went to the area where she was now caring for her young. He got out of the jeep and sat down in the grass nearby. Mother cheetah was nervous, but did not attack. Hoping this was a good sign, the photographer did the unthinkable– he lay down in the grass, helpless, to show that he was not a threat. As he moved from the sitting position, the mother cheetah stood up and watched. As he lay sprawling on the ground, she too lay down, letting her cubs know that they were free to explore. They came over to the photographer– they bit at his toes, climbed all over him, and let him pet them and poke at them with his finger. He never sat up, lifted his head, or played rough with them. He never grabbed them by the nape or spoke. When they got tired of “the new thing” and returned to their mother, the photographer was able to sit up, move close to the family, and take some incredible photos of the whole group.
Why did this remind me of a child’s prayer? The photographer kept saying in the voice-over that it was all about trust– he was patiently building a relationship with this single cheetah for over a year and a half, showing her that he could be trusted. And he was rewarded by her reaction when he signaled that he wanted to be close to her cubs. His act of lying down and essentially putting his life in the balance caused her to respond with a similar act showing her trust was complete. And her act of trust signaled to her cubs that this “new thing” was safe to approach– he could be trusted. A mother cheetah in the wild can run faster than a sports car and kill without a second thought to protect her young.
But she lay still and rested in her trust of this man.
How often do we “lay down” in our trust of God– stop brooding, worrying, fidgeting, and fighting to make sense of things, to build a safety net, to get ahead, to keep up with the neighbors, to feed our dreams and aspirations? The Psalmist in Psalm 23 says, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures…”
Trust isn’t just about lying down and resting– we are commanded to “Go” to “run the race” and to “stand firm in the faith”. But what would it look like if people could see followers of Christ at rest in the certainty of God’s provision and power? What if we opened our eyes to see God patiently building a relationship with us, waiting for the day that we would trust Him enough to enter our daily life? How much more might our children learn to trust God if they saw parents who followed God’s cue to lie down in peace and hope, instead of scurrying around trying to do God’s work in their own (used up) energy? What if, instead of praying with a morbid expectation of dying, we lay down to sleep, knowing that our soul is eternally safe, and that our future is secure and blessed because of the One who hears our prayer?
“Now I lay me down to sleep;
I know the Lord my soul will keep.
If I should live another day,
He then will light my every way!”