A Silent Night for Mother and Son

[Editor's Note: This article was originally published January 2006.] 

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.

I cool myself down by hanging my feet outside the covers to let the heat escape through my sweaty soles. After a couple of moments, I'm aware that I'm not only hot but thirsty.

I resign myself to the inevitable. Sleepy as I am, I have to get out of bed.

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.

It's so quiet I can hear the furnace running, though it doesn't run often at night since my husband turns it down to the "frigid" setting to save money.

I used to balk, but with energy costs such as they are, and my new propensity to overheat, I don't argue.

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 yellow glow from the street lamps casts long shadows in our yard. Everyone else left their Christmas lights on. (Ours are off, of course. Did I mention my husband and the energy bill?)

The air outside is completely still, allowing tufts of snow to sit unmarred on the branches of the barren maple trees. There is snow between the needles of the fir tree next to our driveway. 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. Since his bedroom is above the garage, it gets pretty cold, and what with the furnace running only occasionally, it won't get very warm anyway.

There's no nightlight in Jimmy's room — he's a "total darkness" sleeper. Even in the dark, I spot the hazards between his bedroom door and his sleeping form under the comforter. I walk around a Nerf ball, yesterday's sweatshirt and a pile of Legos and sit on the edge of his bed.

Jimmy is the soundest and easiest sleeper of all my children. I don't know if this is because he's a guy — which means he's hardwired to sleep anywhere, at anytime — or because he expends so much energy throughout the day that his body simply shuts down when his head hits the pillow. He's the one child I must tuck in almost immediately or else the chance to say "goodnight" is lost in soundless slumber. Lucky boy.

I softly rub his cheek, knowing my movements won't disturb him. 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 the house 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'd 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 my best hopes for Jimmy and his deepest desires for himself.

But I wonder if instead, Mary prayed that God would grant not her fondest hopes for her son, but His?

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.

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