“Night is a time of rigor, but also of mercy. There are truths which one can see only when it’s dark.” Isaac Bashevis Singer
Some nights never end. Alone in my head, I replay stories and the future seems dark as it dominates the landscape. I feel small and gloom overwhelms eight hours of space in which sleep can be scarce. Will my adult children find their way in this world? Will goodness and mercy follow them all the days of their lives? Are God’s ways my ways (because I’m pretty sure of the path I’d craft for my children, my grandchildren, those I love, and me)? Night demons hound me.
I often find relief and mercy in the rigorous work of prayer, patterns that have become my default in the night. Perhaps they might seep into your dark spaces too. Perhaps you have patterns of your own to create.
My first response as the darkness envelops me with a problem or concern is, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Holy Spirit have mercy on me.” I often wake up with these words filling my mind. I need deep mercy to face the demons of the night. Over and over again I pray until mercy becomes my companion.
I have modified a hymn/prayer from the “Book of Hours” that was originally published in 1514. These books were developed in the Middle Ages for lay people who wished to incorporate elements of monasticism into their own devotional life. For those I love and for myself I pray, “God, be in their minds and in their understanding. Be in their eyes and in their seeing. God be in the words of their mouths and the meditations of their heart. God be in their appetites and their passions. God strengthen their feeble knees that give way and shod their feet with your good news of peace.”
I consider and pause in each movement of this recitation.
“God be in their mind.” Be in their planning and their own prayers. Be in their hopes and in their dreams. Lord, keep their thoughts centered on you.
“God be in their eyes and in their seeing.” You know how they are viewing their situation. Will you give them glimpses of how you see it? Father, give them a holy vision that sees beyond the moment into the larger plans that you have for them.
“God be in the words of their mouths.” May their words be those of one who trusts you. May their words be a healing balm in a hurting world. May their words of doubt and fear find a safe space in your love.
“God be in the meditations of their heart.” We become what our heart dwells upon. May their hearts be God-leaning. May they root their hearts in the truths you have for them.
“God be in their appetites and passions.” Lord, you have made this one I am praying for. You know what they long for, you know what they are seeking. Will you draw out what is good and holy and guide them in these ways?
“God strengthen their feeble knees that give way.” Lord, you know what we are made of, you know our frail state. We bend the knee at lesser things and stand firm in places that require sacrifice and worship. Lord, give them strong knees and bent knees in just the right spaces.
“Shod their feet with the good news of peace.” May your good news carry them along to the good works of peace that You have prepared for them. Thank you, good Father.
Michael Perry wrote a simple hymn in 1982 and I have co-opted the first verse into my nightly prayers: “Heal me, hands of Jesus, and search out all my pain. Restore my hope, remove my fears, and bring me peace within.”
I have found a deep and resonant space with these simple words as a petition for myself and on behalf of others. It is a prayer for inner healing, for peace and restoration. Some of Perry’s other verses are just as worthy of our prayers: “Cleanse me, blood of Jesus, take bitterness away; let me forgive as one forgiven and bring me peace today. Know me, mind of Jesus, and show me all my sin; dispel the memories of guilt and bring me peace within. Fill me, joy of Jesus; anxiety shall cease, and heaven’s serenity be mine, for Jesus brings me peace.” In these ways, I rest on the shoulders of those who have come before me to pray in ways that are beyond my hopes and dreams for myself and others. This hymn is a prayer I have prayed over 20 years in the dark spaces of the night.
The Lord’s Prayer has been and is a safe space for my soul that I pray for myself and on behalf of others. Usually, I pause with the words, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” to imagine what the fulfillment of the Kingdom might look like in my current situation. How am I gripping too tightly to my own frail resolution? Where can faith meet me in this moment? Jesus’ message is that the Kingdom is at hand. It is said that we live in the already and the not yet. I need help to understand this in the night. Perhaps my greater need is faith to believe in the night that the Kingdom of God is near and will be better than I imagine.
My last prayer is one I crafted for our children many years ago. It still stands in the halls of my prayers in the night. I pray that Liesel, Torrey, Emily, and Sally would be “Givers in a world of takers, not that they would be found empty, but that they would continually trust in God to fill their cup.” This prayer has met with the heart of God for our children. This is who they are and how they live and what they value. For now, this is also how I pray for our grandchildren until God changes or adds to it.
I need help in the night. My thinking is not always full of faith. These are the prayers that I tie myself to. Maybe they can be your prayers. Maybe God has something different for you. Prepare in the day for your prayers in the night. Left to my own devices, worry and despair lead the way. I choose differently, by the grace of God.