I am generally a pretty good sleeper. In fact, the problem usually comes in the waking up department. But as time has gone on and the years have accumulated, my bladder seems to be helping me wake up at a decent hour whether I am ready or not. But getting a good, consistent, restful night sleep hasn’t always been the case.
Back when I was a graduate student, our second son who was between 2-3 years old at the time, suffered from what came to be known as “night terrors.” For some unknown reason, about 3 to 4 nights a week, he would wake up screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night. At first this was extremely disturbing, as his cries were literally blood-curdling, as if he was being tortured, or subjected to the worst horrors imaginable.
My wife and I would be jolted out of a sound slumber, which after a long day of graduate studies was a prized possession, to what sounded like the boogie man had come out from under our son’s bed or closet to torment him. During those first few episodes, my heart would suddenly be pounding as my parental instincts kicked in, and the adrenaline began pumping, and I would jump out of bed ready to fight to the death with whoever or whatever was in our apartment attacking my son.
We would get him out of bed, inspect him for signs of trauma, wondering if he had been bitten by some spider or something, but never finding anything. His eyes would be open, completely wide-eyed, but glazed over as if he were lost in another terrifying dimension. We would hold him, hug him, speak soothing words to him and try to get him to calm down as he thrashed around like a wild-man. As a father, I have never felt so helpless as during those moments, when it seemed that there was nothing I could do to help ease what fictitious events were going on his mind. There was no enemy to defend him from, and our efforts to calm him would allow him to drift back off to fitful sleep, only to awaken both him and us 20-30 minutes later to the same terrified cries once again. When we would awaken exhausted the next morning after little sleep, our son would be happy and fine, and have absolutely no recollection of any bad dreams or being up with us at all.
We took him to doctors, who examined and tested him, and diagnosed him with what they called, “Night Terrors”, which they explained were not extremely uncommon among children and even in more rare cases among some adults. It is a condition similar to a nightmare, but magnified with great intensity and depth, and often accompanied with physical thrashing and/or sleep walking. The doctors were sympathetic, but pretty much told us to just deal with it and eventually he would “probably” grow out of it.
As the sleepless night accumulated over time, they began to take their toll, as all of our efforts to try and make him wake up and come out of his trance-like states, only led to prolonged and repeated episodes throughout those particular nights. I can only imagine what our neighbors through the apartment walls must have thought we were doing to our children, and looking back, am surprised we weren’t turned in to child protective services to be investigated for abuse, as I’m sure it sounded like we were conducting pagan rituals on our children.
One night, as another episode drug my wife and I wearily out of bed, I carried him down the stairs of our townhouse apartment and feeling too tired to try to hold and deal with his thrashings, just laid him down on the carpet in the middle of the living room, sat next to my wife on the couch and decided to just let him deal with it. He went through his normal twisting contortions and ear-splitting screams for several minutes, and even got up and staggered around, all the time with his eyes wide open and filled with that terrified, glazed over, haunted look.
But then something happened…. All of the sudden he quit walking and thrashing around, stopped where he was standing in the middle of the floor, his eyes focused on my wife and I, he looked around as if he was thinking, ‘what are you doing up in the middle of the night?’ and he said, “I’m tired and want to go to bed.” My wife and I looked at each other in surprise, got him a drink of water and he walked himself back up the stairs to his bedroom and then he fell quickly back asleep, and slept well through the remainder of the evening without another episode.
These episodes still occurred randomly over the next year or so, but mercifully gradually tapered off in their intensity and frequency. All of our initial attempts, although done out of care and loving concern, had been focused on physically trying to comfort him and forcefully wake him up from his delusional states, only to have him experience the horrible episodes over and over again throughout the night. What we realized was, that if we just kept our distance and made sure he didn’t severely injury himself, he would eventually come to his senses, wake up and realize that he wanted to be back in his bed where it was more comfortable and he could rest.
Somehow, we all survived those many long nights, and eventually (Hallelujah!!!) he quit having the night terrors all together. Today, as something sparked those memories in my brain, I also had a realization of how those experiences mirror much about how our loving Heavenly Father reacts to our troubles in life.
In the scriptures, the apostle Paul taught that in this life, “We see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Much like our young son, we often walk about with glazed eyes, clouded over by our worldly cares and concerns which haunt our thoughts and distort our perception of the reality and true purpose of why we are experiencing the things we are going through.
This mortal journey is fraught with countless experiences which cause us grief, heartache, sorrow, and unfortunately sometimes even encounters with true wickedness and evil which inflict their terrors upon us. Our wise Heavenly Father, although He cares for us with an unending love and compassion, realizes that if He were to immediately step in and try to forcefully fix every trauma that came our way, we would likely not come to a realization of our situation for ourselves, (and much like our son re-living his terrors over and over) we would very likely end up repeating the same mistakes and heartache over and over again… much like a bad nightmare.
Instead, He knows that if he watches over us from a distance, and provides enough support to make sure we don’t inure ourselves too badly, that eventually we will “awake” from our situation, and realize that we don’t really like where things have taken us. Once we come to an awareness of things as they really are, and can shed the irrationality of our earthly concerns and worries, we are able to choose, by our own volition, to walk to higher spiritual ground where His peace and rest await us.
Too often in life, we want to cry out towards the Heavens, through our glazed over spiritual eyes, and wonder why, if Heavenly Father love us, does He seem to stand back and let us struggle and thrash around without providing a means of deliverance for us from the unpleasantness of our situations. But in reality, He knows from vast and perfect experience, that the only way we can truly find the comfort and lasting peace He has to offer us, is through allowing us to come to our senses and choose to take ourselves out of those feelings and situations. Once we use our agency and come to terms with those realities around us, then He can truly change us into what He knows we have the potential to become.
As I mentioned, our son was able to eventually grow out of those horrible childhood night terrors, and has gone on to live a normal, successful and wonderful life and has even married and become a father of his own children.
Much in the same way, if we can awaken from our spiritual slumbers, we can choose to grow out of our own self-imposed “night terrors” and with the Lord’s divine guidance, walk along His path to something better… even progressing to become like Him!“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – (1 Corinthians 13:11)