I didn’t come from a religious family. We never went to Church or participated in any outward religious activities. Yet for some reason, we still participated in some of the more popular Christian rituals.
My sister and I were both baptised as young children & each assigned a set of Godparents. We had a set of children’s bible storybooks in the house, probably given to us as a gift at some point. But the strangest and possibly most harmful ritual we participated in was reciting the children’s bedtime prayer, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep,’ every night before bed. I have a feeling my crazy, Russian grandma had something to do with introducing this tradition, but I can’t be sure.
For those unfamiliar with it, here is the most common version:
“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. Amen.”
Now, put yourself in my 5-year-old shoes. Imagine being asked to remember this prayer, and then told to recite it night after night.
Would it surprise you if I told you that I, a very calm, happy child, became afraid of falling asleep? Because in my young impressionable mind, this prayer made me think that there was a real possibility that I would die in my sleep. Why would I want to fall asleep if I might not wake up?
It’s like that joke about quicksand. As kids, we all thought it was going to be a much bigger problem than it turned out to be.
I realize this prayer originated in the 18th century, when the chances of you suddenly dying in your sleep were much higher than they are today. But kids don’t know that, and it still doesn’t change the fact that it is frightening for a child to think they might die in their sleep.
Now I know that a lot of Christian parents would argue that it isn’t meant to be ‘scary’, that it is supposed to reassure the child that if they were to die that the ‘Lord’ would take their soul. But I don’t find that reassuring at all, as a young child I never even imagined that there was a possibility of dying in my sleep until someone made me memorize this little gem.
I know a lot of parents who have children with sleep issues, and experts tend to blame other activities before bedtime such as watching TV, but maybe it’s also time to take a closer look at the bible stories and prayers that can fill your children’s heads as they drift off to sleep.