When I climbed into bed, the sheets felt like thin strips of refrigeration. I pulled the comforter up to my ears and shivered as I waited for my body to generate enough heat to turn my toes from blue to toasty.
Now, at 3:35 in the morning, a wave of warmth rolls over me like an incoming tide and wakes me from my proverbial “long winter’s nap.”
Hot flash? Maybe. Let’s not go there. Sleepy as I am, I roll back the blankets and head to the kitchen for a drink of water.
Everything in the kitchen is just as I left it four hours ago, but in the wee hours, it’s a peaceful space, not the busy, bustling place it is when all the lights are on.
I take my water and wander from room to room. Yesterday’s paper is strewn over a coffee table. One of the children must have been reading it since the sections are disassembled. There are pillows on the floor, along with the dog’s chew toy and someone’s shoes. It’s not a mess, but it’s lived in.
In the dining room, I stand in the window and look out over the snow-covered street. The air outside is completely still, allowing tufts of snow to sit unmarred on the branches of the barren maple trees. It’s dangerously cold out there – the low is supposed to be something like 2 degrees – and I’m amazed that a night so brutal is also so beautiful.
Thinking about the temperature outside prompts me to go to Jimmy’s room and make sure he hasn’t kicked off his blanket. There’s no night light in his room – he’s a “total darkness” sleeper and the soundest and easiest sleeper of all my children.
Sure enough, he’s sprawled across the bed, with half the blanket sliding toward the floor.
There’s just enough light coming from the window to see his eyelids flutter back and forth, following the pattern of his unconscious thoughts as they speed through the deepest recesses of his mind.
There’s something in this moment, profound in its silence, when all my son’s dreams and hopes and wishes seem to reach out and grab my heart. His life is so incomplete, so unformed; it holds such promise and purpose yet to be discovered.
On this night – this “Silent Night” – I realize my thoughts and prayers for my son must be the very kinds of thoughts and prayers that every mother has for her boy.
Mothers of kings and soldiers, of presidents and scientists and artists and laborers, from age to age, wander their houses in the stillness of a winter night and sit at the side of the bed.
We all think about the men our sons could become, should become.
So must Mary have sat by a sleeping Jesus, listening to him softly inhale and exhale, watching his eyes dance from side to side as images flashed across his perfect mind.
Did she wonder about his dreams? Did she pray they would come to pass?
Did she pray he would be the man he was created to be?
Did she dare ask God to make him great? Or to let him change the world?
I realize in this moment that all these years I’ve been praying that God would grant for Jimmy his deepest desires and my best hopes for the life he has yet to live.
But I wonder if instead, Mary prayed that God would grant for her son not her best hopes, but God’s.
Perhaps she did.
Perhaps on those silent nights when she watched her son in peaceful slumber, she understood that even a mother’s heart can’t hold the infinite potential that exists only in the thoughts of God.
Editor’s note: A version of this column originally was printed on Dec. 25, 2005.