In the dark of night, my eyes opened. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself sitting up in bed and swinging my legs to the floor without really waking. Then, as I made my somnolent way across the room and out the bedroom door, I heard it—the sound that had filtered into my brain and kicked me into motion while I slept.
It was my 2-year-old son. He was calling over and over, in a little, fever-tinged voice that sounded like a cross between a moan and a whimper: “I want Dada, I want Dada, I want Dada. . . .”
When I got to his darkened room, he was sitting up in his crib with his brows knit together in a pained expression. “Daddy’s right here,” I told him as he reached his arms out and I scooped him up. I could feel the heat of the fever in his sweaty little body. But as I cradled him in my arms, he snuggled against me and his brow smoothed and he actually smiled a wonderful, contented smile. He said “Dada” once more, this time in a voice that conveyed relief and security, and fell back to sleep.
I breathed a sigh of relief; he was going to be all right. And in a moment of spontaneous prayer, I said: “Thank you, Jesus. I’m glad I could be here to comfort him.” The thought surprised me. I had never considered feeling thankful for being there to help my kids, even when it meant being awakened in the night.
Really? I wondered. Am I really glad to be awakened at night to care for a sick child? I was further surprised when I realized: Yeah, really. I’m really glad that I could be here to comfort him. Thank you, Jesus.
If you’d asked me what I wanted to do or what would make me happy, I definitely wouldn’t have said waking up in the middle of the night to tend to a sick kid. Of course I wished that my little son wasn’t sick, but I was relieved that his fever wasn’t serious and he would be fine. I was thankful that my presence brought him some peace so he could go back to sleep with a smile on his face and get healthy. My gratitude for being there certainly wasn’t due to any waning enthusiasm for sleep. As a father of four young children, I’ve come to relish sleep as I never did before parenthood. Given my druthers, if the fever could leave my son and I could go back to sleep, I definitely would.
But as much as I like sleep, I’d still rather be there for my little man when he needs me. I’d rather have my subconscious drag me from my bed in the middle of the night to care for him. And while I’ve occasionally pined for the adventures of my pre-parenting years, I’d never really thought about whether I’d actually choose gourmet-grazing and globe-trotting over parenting, if given the option. But now, I know that I wouldn’t. And surprisingly, it isn’t even close.
I haven’t had too many moments for quiet contemplation in recent years, and I had never gotten around to considering the question—at least not at a time when I’d had enough coffee to facilitate higher-level brain functioning. But now that the question was squarely presented, the answer was obvious. I wasn’t in any state to explain why, at that groggy moment, and I don’t pretend to know my purpose or why I’m here. But whatever my purpose, I think I was a lot closer to it right then—holding a sick child in the middle of the night—than I had ever been in my adventuring days.
When I was a single lawyer, footloose and fancy-free and flush with cash, I always loved traveling for the chance to explore the world and learn what is. I was a seeker, questing for insight into the true heart of the human condition. And quite unexpectedly, I ended up learning a lot more about what really is and what really matters without leaving home. Even without peering into anything more mysterious than that diaper with a suspicious sag, I’ve learned more about the secret heart of humanity in my own little house since I’ve had kids than I ever did in my years of piling up souvenirs and travel trophies.
And I finally realized that those moments which close in on real life, like my opportunity to care for a sick child in the middle of the night, are gifts from God. I still don’t understand it. But I realized it was true. Which was why I’d been prompted to offer a spontaneous prayer of thanks to God.