It was a scary prayer my mother taught me to say on my knees. Being so young, I knew no other and dutifully prayed:
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.
Afterwards, I’d lie in bed worrying I might not wake up. I wasn’t sick or old like the woman in the newspaper who was forty. Why should I die?
That bedtime scenario, though, was not as frightening as the nights I was jolted awake with words that lacerate the heart. My drunken father would be on a tirade and my mother, the silent victim of his attacks. With a filthy cord of profanity, he lashed out at her. Some of his barbed criticisms and accusations I understood. Others, I grew into.
Whenever I heard rushing footsteps on the heels of my mother’s terror shrieks, I was afraid she would die at my father’s hands. I’d hold my breath and hope for the slamming of the screen door. That would mean my mother was safe somewhere out there in the dark.
As the house then turned deathly silent, I’d dread my father’s alcoholic side would burst into our bedroom and beat my brothers and me. Mr. Hyde never did.
Now I lay me down in peace. I have no fear of being slapped awake with violent outbursts before dawn. Often, while basking in my bedroom’s tranquility, I lull my heart with Psalm 4:8: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety” (KJV).
I am old now and not afraid to die before I wake. In my finite mind’s imagination, it looks like the best picture. If, however, I should open my eyes again to this world’s morning, I can recall another prayer that came through my mother. This one is on a piece of linen she embroidered while expecting me, her firstborn of six: