Our son always goes to bed with a book, or two, or four. My wife and I take turns reading to him in English and Portuguese and then we slowly shut off lights, pray together, and finally the lights go out and I tell him another story in the dark. It's called a "dark story". These are funny stories often about my family and my childhood, or how his mom and I met, or the things he did when he was growing up, or crazy tales with no endings. My alpha-wife falls asleep completely spent by her day but he and I will continue on and talk about our day, or laugh hysterically about our day, until she shushes us both to quiet down. In the darkness he always asks me a flurry of questions trying to hold off on sleep and they are usually questions about God. His mind tries to comprehend complex issues regarding eternity, heaven, creation, angels or possibly how tall he will be when he's five. When he's satisfied with my answers, or my struggles to answer, he will hold my hand until he drifts off into little snores. It's a powerful part of my day. All of what I wanted to accomplish and did or didn't succeed at throughout my day, all my plans for the next day, completely end as I hear the sound of his chest rise and fall next to me. Alone in my thoughts next to him I often think about all the love and pain that brought me through to this time in my life.
Before he fell asleep last night he whispered, "Daddy, I will love you forever."
He fell asleep before I could reply. I didn't have words anyway. The gratitude and wonder of that sentence and what will be in our futures overwhelmed me into silence. My mind went back to struggles and pain well over a decade ago but now to have all of this beside me and so much hope for more ahead of me, I had no words. The gratitude actually hurt. All through me there was a burning thanks that I could find no words for. A place in me that I could not reach with language. I could only hold the hand of our small son in the dark thinking about what he had just said. I was profoundly grateful because at one time in my life I never imagined that I would ever hear that sentence directed towards me. His words were a very significant sentence in my life, one that leveled me with honesty and challenged me as his father.
As I held his small hand I thought about the great age gap between us and I wondered quietly about our days together. Of all that is ahead for him and how much of it I will be there for. I thought about how short life is and how impossible it is that such an insignificant length of time can satisfy our lives. I wondered about eternity, grasping for comfort, praying that God would give us that timeless place together. As I remembered where I was in the history of my life, I was without words to express the "thank you's" for where I am now, and the "help me's" for all that is ahead of me.
I fell asleep in the darkness weighing my responsibilities and aching for the grace and power. It's a prayer that I am certain fills the hearts and minds of every parent on earth. We all must believe in a future that is so different than what we can possibly imagine today and move towards it. We may only have a glimpse of it in our battle but we have to move everything out of the way that would prevent us and keep persevering. I am thankful for my son's words last night whispered in the darkness of his room, far beyond the darkness that was my life for years. It gave me hope for today.
There are moments like I had with my son that we cannot see in our afflictions now but they are there; precious and in a future we cannot see in our current struggles. They are the valuable pieces of our individual lives that bring us hope with wisdom and encouragement that we can share with another.
The substance of these things cannot ever be bought but are treasures mined in darkness.