The kids’ bedtime routine, at chez Arnold, over the summer, is a fairly simple affair. It’s a shortened form of the school-year version, which results in these three, brief bedtime todos:
Pajamas now on, teeth now clean, our two children, Hannah and Graham, ages nine and five, then approach Kathi and I for the evening blessing.
“Jesus Loves you, and so do I,” we’ll say, as we mark the sign of the cross on each forehead.
We share a hug. We share a kiss. Our kids then dutifully march right upstairs to their bedrooms. And then quickly fall asleep. Perhaps visions of sugarplums dance in their heads, too, guiding them to arise, fully rested, the next morning.
All this gives Kathi and I few precious hours each night to relax on the couch, watch a show or two on the telly, and plan for the upcoming day.
The bedtime process is quick, effective, and works like a charm. Every single night.
It is predictable. It is perfect.
And it is one more thing. It is 100% completely, and entirely, NOT TRUE
Oh, the ideals are there. Pajamas, teeth, blessing, bed.
But the reality? That’s more complicated.
Sometimes a quick wardrobe change turns into 15 or 20 minutes.
Sometimes teeth, post brush, still smell like dinner. Try one more time, sweetie.
Most times the routine feels like a Columbo episode – that’s the 1970s murder mystery show starring Peter Falk. Don’t worry, no one dies during bedtime. But our two favorite leading characters do take a page from Peter Falk, with their grand entrances back into the scene. We watch as they walk back downstairs, pop their head in the living room, and give their version of “just one more thing.”
Their requests center on trying to meet their needs. Or at least perceived needs.
• Mommy, I’ve heard this bedtime story podcast. Can you pick another?
• Mommy, where are the colored pencils? I’d like to draw.
• Daddy, I can’t sleep. Any suggestions?
• Mommy, can I have a glass of warm milk?
• Mommy, I’d like to have an extremely long chat about baby sloths. And it just can.not.wait.
Graham has asked this, well beyond bedtime, LITERALLY, the past two nights.
Also, notice who gets most of the questions. Hint: it ain’t dad.
I submit that reality to you, without comment.
After hearing all these “just one more things,” Kathi and I then do our best to wade through the requests, trying to keep their best interests – and our sanity – in mind.
Bedtime story podcasts, yes.
Colored pencils, maybe.
Sleep suggestions, always.
Glass of warm milk? Not if you’re still trying to stay dry at night.
Baby sloth chatter? Let’s talk in the morning.
And before you know it the 8pm bedtime can turn into 9pm, or 10pm, or later.
Sometimes we get these parenting moments right. At least I hope we do. Other times I’m sure we don’t. And that’s ok. We are only human, after all.
In today’s text, from Luke 11, the disciples ask Jesus how to pray. He responds by sharing the Lord’s prayer, albeit a shorter version than the one you’re familiar with. To drive home the point, of how we are to pray, Christ then tells a story, he’s so good at that. This time it’s the parable of the Friend at Night.
Similar to our family bedtime routines that often go haywire, this text also features a late-night disruption that doesn’t go according to plan.
Imagine this scene. A man and his children are all nestled in bed for the night. It’s a one-room home, typical for this culture. The door is locked. It’s midnight.
By then this family’s bedtime routine – however that looked – was already now complete. Perhaps visions of ancient sugar plums danced in the children’s heads. Perhaps the parents had blissfully entered REM sleep. Perhaps, in this moment, all seemed as it should be.
And then, what-do-you-know, there’s a knock at the door.
A midnight door knock may not be all that relatable these days, it’s never happened to me at least. Nighttime disruptions from outside our home more frequently come from phones. And if the phone rings, when most people know you’re asleep, well, that just can’t be good.
Here’s a few questions that might race through your head when groggily answering an unexpected midnight call:
– What’s the emergency?
– Did someone die?
– Could this wait until morning?
Perhaps the man in this parable found himself in a similar state of mind.
Regardless, the man gets up, goes to the door, and listens as his friend makes an unexpected request.
“Could I borrow a few loaves of bread?” the door knocker asks. “One of my friends just arrived from out of town and I don’t have anything to feed them.”
Now if I’d gone to the door and heard this request, at midnight, I’d still have some questions.
– That’s the emergency?
– No one died?
– Couldn’t this wait until morning?
The man in this parable presents similar objections, saying –
– Don’t bother me
– The door’s locked
– Kids are asleep
– I can’t give you anything
Can’t say I blame the guy. While middle of night phone calls may make you anxious, midnight door knocks may make you more annoyed. But, despite these very human objections, the man of interrupted sleep gives the man of midnight knocking the bread.
Christ tells us in verse 8 it’s because of the man’s persistence. Because of that the sleepy father gives the midnight knocker anything he needs.
Tho the NRSV translation uses the term persistence, it’s really more than that. After all the man only asks for bread once. The original Greek word anaideia is arguably better rendered as “shamelessness.”
Other synonyms for shameless that explain why this man was given the midnight meal are – audacity, brazenness, gall, nerve, and chutzpah.
This isn’t language typically associated with prayer.
Yet it is exactly the mindset Christ wants us to have when approaching our heavenly Father.
Christ then closes out this prayer passage with a notion of what we can expect.
Parents, if your kids asks for fish, would you give them a snake?
And if they request an egg, would you give them a scorpion?
The rhetorical questions answer themselves.
Even we imperfect, flawed, sometimes impatient human parents know how to give our kids good gifts. And if even we, can do that, how much more will our heavenly Father give, to us, through the Holy Spirit? We need only ask.
This passage yields answers to many, many questions on the nature of prayer.
First, how then shall we pray?
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed by thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever. Amen.
And when then shall we pray?
Any time of day,
even when the world seems otherwise preoccupied;
especially when most are deep in sleep.
And how then shall we approach prayer?
with audacity, brazenness, and some chutzpah.
By being, in short, BOLD.
Finally, what then shall we expect?
from the Father,
for those who boldly ask.
I like to think that we humans are, well, less than convenient for God to try and parent. Maybe that’s just the nature of youth. Particularly when growing up with, and looking up to, a divine role model of –
Reflecting back on the chez Arnold bedtime shenanigans, I can’t help but appreciate the tenacity of our kids. They ask for what they need most every night. They do so without shame, with audacity, and with some chutzpah. They are bold. Even if it drives mom and dad, at times, a bit batty.
My hope is our two kids continue to approach us for their needs, for a very very long time to come. Even when, or perhaps especially when, the timing of their requests is less than ideal.
Live is messy. God knows.
As we consider the nature of prayer, may we look at it with the faith, and boldness, of a child. We may grow old, tho may we never truly grow up. May we continue to petition God the Father, or perhaps God the Mother, our whole lives long. May we always use Christ’s words as our guide.
May our prayers be audacious, with nary a hint of shame. For we are called to converse with our great God-parent, any time of day, any time of night, under any kind of circumstance. When we but ask, boldly, we stake claim to an eternal relationship with our creator; the giver of nothing but good, good gifts.
For it is in those moments we find our peace, our joy, our purpose. And it is in those moments where we can proclaim, with confidence, not my will, but thy will, be done. Amen.