Last night, still suffering from a lingering cough and cold, I recalled the prayer we taught our sons to say every night they went to bed, the same prayer I had said as a boy, reciting the words and then waiting for the kiss that came from Mom or Dad on my forehead at the end, like a benediction, which indeed it was.
The words are not quite the words of the hymn written by Mary Duncan back in the 1830s— either we kids or my parents changed them—but the idea is quite the same. I find myself closing my eyes now just to recall the words. That’s what a familiar prayer will do to you—put you right back in that prayerful mode:
Jesus, tender shepherd, hear me
Bless this little lamb tonight.
Through the darkness be down near me,
Keep me safe till morning light.
Of course, as kids, my brother and I, in the bedroom we shared, could rattle the words off so fast that it practically became a contest to see if we could sound like an auctioneer, and I remember Howard once moving his head in the darkness so Mom ended up kissing the top of a pillow instead of his forehead: “Honey!” she exclaimed. But the prayer usually hit its magical mark: I could close my eyes and the bogeyman at the foot of my bed or the imagined terrors of childhood (what if the house burned down or was lifted in the sky like Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz? What if our dog died? What if we ended up in the poorhouse?) receded. Jesus, tender shepherd, would hear me.
Even guys in their fifties can conjure up bogeymen of sorts and imagine terrors that would stun a 5-year-old for their complexity and ferocity. All the more reason to remember a simple prayer.
I said it. It still works.
When was the last time you said your bedtime prayer from childhood?