Last night I lay down with my son at bedtime, holding his hand as is our usual routine. He had suffered a nasty virus the past week and his normal fitful sleeping pattern was even more angst-filled because he couldn’t breathe. Most of us struggle to sleep comfortably with head congestion, but Michael’s body doesn’t seem to be able to make the shift to mouth breathing when the nasal passages are blocked. As soon as he starts to fall into a sleep, his body flips on a “Nose Breathe Only” switch, which of course wakes him up as soon as he cannot pull in any air. And so we experienced hour upon hour of these snort-filled, air-gasping, stressful, sleepless nights.
Last night however, the sweetest gift unwrapped itself for me as I heard Michael take steady, calm breaths. It was like hearing the rhythmic ebb and flow of an ocean tide at night, comforting and making me feel safe. I knew something so good, so big and powerful was present permeating the atmosphere and being emitted from within– it was Life. This mystery of breath we draw, so taken for granted became physically manifest in my son’s peaceful breaths. His life – the one I begged Christ to spare “no matter how hard it will be,” the one I have held on to with the white-knuckled grasp of maternal worry for so many years, the one I sometimes wonder the purpose of if not to suffer – was not mine. It is his, and His, and oh how blessed it is to know and more fully accept this truth.
On the eve of my 50th birthday, I received the gift of a decent night’s sleep, and in sincere and humble gratitude I rejoiced that my child could rest, and so I rested. My soul has grown full to brimming with an ache of gratefulness that I have known so much love and kindness and mercy in my life. On this milestone morning as I whispered a prayer to the Lord, I paused in tearful awareness that every breath that allowed my voice to pray was a gift from God’s Life-Giving Spirit, "(He) breathed into (her) nostrils the breath of life; and (she) became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
I look back to the times before this when Michael was sick and how the intensity of worry was so heightened that my body stiffened hard and raw-nerved, as I tended to his needs. How analogous his sleeping difficulties are to my inability to “rest” assured that God is good and what He wills, and allows, is intrinsically and ultimately good. I have been unable to let go, thinking I must control Michael’s body with scientific precision in order for him to have life. Finally this week, I felt myself slowly handing over the reigns to God and with sweet surprise, receiving peace in place of fear in the midst of our little storm. I may not have received what I wanted, when I wanted it, but a more precious gift has been offered that was frankly always there for the taking. I can see this now for what it is, and the key to unlocking the treasure chest of clear sight is trust, even a little bit of it, even if it is “as small as a mustard seed.” (Matt 17:20)
The gift is Life – not merely abstract or even of visible cycles and experiences – but one born from the love of a Person, “He Who Is… Life.” (Exodus 3:14, John 14:1) The precious Gift is the Antidote to all of the tragedies and wounds of our fallen existence, and as He once offered Himself for the life of the world, so now and so always He continues to pour Himself out to all willing to receive Him. Life is Jesus Christ our Lord. And this Life is worth living. Amen.
Presvytera Melanie is a Resource Developer for the Center for Family Care. She and her husband Fr Joseph have one son, Michael Seraphim, and together they serve St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Youngstown, Ohio.