Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Have you ever wondered how the world
must look to a little baby? After nine months
of confinement, tucked close beneath its
mother’s heart, the world must seem a
strange, vast place.

Looking up from its crib, perhaps a little
one’s first awareness is of faces looking
down. Probably the first person to attract
the baby’s attention would be its mother.

“Who is this person?” might be the baby’s
first question, if it could speak. I’m told
that the miraculous, divinely-planned
bonding between child and mother begins
almost immediately after birth. Many
experts believe a baby even recognizes its
mother’s voice from months of hearing it
inside the womb.

And the baby’s next question might be,
“Who is that man?” Given the proper time,
care, and attention from the male parent,
the infant will grow to recognize and love its
father, too. Throughout every stage of its
growth and development, that child needs
the influence and nurture of both a mother
and father. Expressing affection to the child
in a positive way, like hugging, is important
in developing a sense of security.

Father’s importance

Sorry to say, too often there is not
enough of a relationship between fathers
and children. There is too little male
bonding. Some recent studies have determined
that a great many men spend only about
ten minutes a day with their children. As a
result, fathers are virtual strangers to their
offspring. Children can’t identify with their
father — they don’t know who he is or what
he stands for. They would find it impossible
to say what their dad’s outlook and
philosophy is.

This condition is one of the sad and
serious consequences of homes broken by
divorce. There are millions of single-parent
homes where children grow up never
knowing the influence of a man in the house.

Even in homes with mothers and
fathers, sometimes dads spend too many
hours watching TV, or involving themselves
in hobbies or activities that take them away
from their children. Sometimes, even church
activities can keep men really busy with
Sunday and Wednesday services, and
perhaps one or two other nights of serving on
boards or committees.

Because of the hectic pace of modern life…
and possibly even because of the demented,
evil behavior of a small percentage of men
who victimize and abuse youngsters — the
normal, healthy bond of intimacy between
father’s and children is deteriorating.

In recent months, there seems to be a
new emphasis on developing positive
parent-child relationships — especially with fathers.
I applaud this and encourage every Christian
father to invest more time and interest in
his children. Almost nothing is more
important to the whole family’s welfare than
for the man of the house to be a real father.

As I look back over my childhood and
teenage years, I realize what an important
role my dad, Rex Shelton, played in my life.
And looking around at the multiplied
thousands of youngsters who have absolutely
no father-image, or a father who takes little
or no interest in them, or even worse, a
father who persecutes and abuses them,
my heart goes out to them.

No wonder our youth are out of control,
our families deteriorating, and our nation
veering disastrously off course! God, give
us fathers — godly men like my precious dad!

Caring and sharing

I knew my father. He was a real, flesh
and blood, down-to-earth person. He was
not afraid to share his struggles and troubles
openly — not to burden his children but to
let us see how he worked through hard
times and faced adversity…and how he
trusted God. He openly showed us the
reality of Christian living.

Dad had a big heart. He cared for others,
and always was quick to extend a helping
hand. Dad came from a family of eight
children, and he even helped take care of
his brothers and sisters, taking responsibility
for them until they were old enough to
be on their own.

My dad was tenderhearted…and not
afraid of tears. He was moved by the feelings
of others. If I cried, often he cried too,
sharing my sorrow, and offering comfort and
encouragement. I always knew he cared.

He also was free-spirited and fun loving,
and never outgrew the joy of playing. I
remember going swimming and water skiing,
and tobogganing with him in the snow.
Once, when I was just a little girl, Dad and I
were out walking in the snow and I got so
cold I couldn’t stand it. Dad picked me up,
put me inside his coat, wrapping it snugly
around both of us. I felt so secure in
hisarms — protected, safe, warm, and loved.

That’s really how Dad made me feel all
my life. I never remember him saying, “Leave
me alone — I don’t have time for you right
now.” He made time for me when I needed
and wanted him — he was always there,
physically and emotionally.

When I had a serious tooth problem and
had to go to the dentist for a root canal, it
was Dad who took me and held my hand
through the frightening ordeal. And it was
Dad who taught me to face reality, putting
Merthiolate on a scrape and saying, “Rexella,
this WILL hurt…but it will help you get well.”

Dad knew how to make me feel special.
Sometimes I’d follow him out into the
backyard garden — just because I enjoyed walking
with him and looking at the vegetables. He’d
find the biggest and best red tomato in the
whole garden and give it to me, along with a
salt shaker he’d carried in his pocket just
for that walk.

Children love to know what their fathers
do. My dad was a quality control inspector
on a General Motors auto assembly line.
I’ll never forget when he took me to see his
work. I was so proud of him — I thought he
was so important. It made me look up to
him even more.

My father did not send me to church
with my mother — he took us to church as a
family. I started singing at church when I
was about five years old. When I’d look out
at the congregation, Dad was always there
and his face shone with approval! Years
later, when Jack and I were young
evangelists, whenever we were within 50-100 miles
of home, Dad would drive over to be in our
services. Sometimes it meant he could only
sleep four or five hours that night because he
was up each morning at 5:30 a.m. for work.

I’ve always thought it must be profoundly
painfulto be publicly ridiculed or disciplined
by one’s parent. Dad always corrected me
privately. I sometimes needed correction —
and I got it! But Dad never humiliated me
or made my misdeeds a public spectacle.
And he used my mistakes as opportunities
to teach me a better way.

Once I was trying to train a puppy to do
tricks — with little results. I got so exasperated
that I was yelling! Dad came out with
a handful of treats and said, “Try using
these as rewards — it will work better.” Then
he told me that when he was a boy, his
mother had taught him to use sugar cubes
instead of a stick to train his horse. I never
forgot that lesson.

Godly father

I was so fortunate — so blessed to have a
good father. It was never difficult for me to
understand or receive God’s love because I
had experienced the love of an earthly father.
I could believe God would take my burdens
(Psalm 55:22), supply my needs (Philippians
4:19), protect me (Psalm 91:11), direct me
(Proverbs 3:5,6), and give me everlasting
life and love (John 3:16). My earthly father
had exemplified all these things to me. If
Dad had these qualities, how could I doubt
that God had them to the ultimate degree?

My dad taught me how to live. And he
also taught me how to die. When my father’s
life came to an end, I remember the whole
family gathering in his hospital room to
spend the last precious hours with him. He
suffered in dignity…and died in peace.

Shortly before he crossed over into
heaven, I was alone with Dad for a few
minutes. I asked, “Dad, we don’t have a lot
of time left to be together here in this world.
Is there anything you have to tell me?”

He was quiet for a long moment, then he
squeezed my hand gently and said, “Fulfill
the reason for which you’ve been born!”
Those words have been my goal ever since.
And with all the strength and wisdom I can
summon, each day I try to give my best…to
the work of God that is my life’s calling.

Walking through the valley

Not long after this happened, Dad stirred
a bit and said, “Look, I’m walking through
the valley!”

“Who is waiting for you on the other
side?” I asked, as tears streamed down my cheeks.

“My Lord,” he said. “My Lord is waiting.”

In a few minutes, Dad said he needed to
rest, but he wanted to pray before he went
to sleep. I held his hand as he prayed. He
said, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the
Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before
I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take.”

I knew Dad could lay down to sleep,
knowing he had been a good father — that
his primary work was done. Like the Apostle
Paul, he could say, “I’ve finished the course.”

Looking back fondly, somehow it seems
just right that, in his last supplication, Dad
would revert to that simple, beautiful child’s
bed-time prayer. After all, he was moving
into the presence of his Father.

The other day, after an exhausting
session before the TV cameras, I was feeling a
bit weary and under the weather. For some
reason, when I got home I opened an old
scrapbook, and a piece of paper fluttered
loose. It was a church attendance slip from
my childhood days. Written on the back, in
Dad’s handwriting, was a note he’d jotted
down for me after I’d sung at church. But
his words reached across the years and
blessed me once again. “Dear Rexella,” I
read through my tears, “this was your most
beautiful and best yet. Love, Dad.”