We welcome him into our bed, our little guy. Except he isn’t so little anymore. He’s five years old and tall with lengthy limbs. Into the bed he comes, carrying his favorite books and stuffed animals until we are all squished — Mom, Dad, and our not-so-little boy.
He sleeps with us when he can’t sleep, or when we need to separate him from our two-year-old toddler who takes forever and a day to fall asleep . . . and stay asleep.
We put on the diffuser, dim the lights, and play his favorite soothing music. We accommodate him to the best of our ability, making space for this not-so-little son of ours.
One night, while the three of us were all scrunched asleep in our full-size bed, the soothing music that was streaming from our iPad stopped playing. The sound abruptly transitioned to a playlist with upbeat music. I awoke, stepped out of bed, and turned off the iPad. But, in no less than fifteen seconds, I heard rustling from our bed and a quiet voice that followed.
“Why’d you turn the iPad off?” asked my son.
“The music stopped playing,” I said. “It’s okay, just close your eyes and go back to sleep,” I reassured him.
Then he mumbled something, a whining sound that pulled and twisted my ears. Too tired in the wee hours of the morning to decipher what he was saying, I rolled into bed and told him again to go back to sleep . . . again. But then came the tears — a silent sniffling, a whimpering that he tried to conceal as he cried while burrowed in the blankets.
Every fiber of my being wanted to swoop in and save him, wipe away the tears, and stop them from coming. But the truth is . . . I wanted to cry too, right there, squished in that bed and sandwiched between all my own emotions.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” I asked him, checking my phone to see just how early this “wee in the morning” was. (It was 4:15.)
He paused for a few seconds, then calmly whispered, “I just don’t like being squished in small spaces.” Small spaces, meaning our full-size bed was not big enough for the three of us. It’s his most common complaint when he spends the night in our bed. There are too many people. There’s not enough space. I need more room. You need a bigger bed, he says.
As he cried, I realized — I wanted to cry, too. Because he was right — our full-size bed isn’t all that big . . . but it is all we can afford. Our full-size bed, along with our rented, pinched-for-space townhome with no backyard, is the best we have to give right now. It’s all we have to give.
And did he know, as I held back tears of my own, right then and there at 4:15 AM, that I’ll never be able to give him all he wants and needs? Because I am only human and there will always be some gaping need, longing, or lack that I cannot fix or fulfill.
I didn’t cry at that moment, but I did tell him that if he needed more space, he could go to his room and spread out in his own bed. So, off he went — closing the door behind him. As I lay there, I thought about how I’d been in this place before — hearing or seeing or even just fearing the fall of someone else’s tears while knowing there was nothing I could do to fix the world for them, or change their situation, or save the day, or give them something better.
It’s the place of not being able to catch someone else’s every tear, not being able to meet their every need or fulfill their every dream or desire. And, there comes a time when we step out of the shimmering illusion, the lie that we can be everything all at once and that we can save everyone. There comes a time when, sandwiched between the end of ourselves and the need of someone else, we realize — we’re not meant or made to shoulder it all, to sustain it all.
There is no interior well, wide or deep enough, from which we can live out all our good intentions or our fiercest love. There is only One who can deeply and fully meet and shepherd our loved ones in and through their every longing, loneliness, and loss.
When I realize I can’t meet the wants, wishes, and needs of others, I learn to instead, release them to the only One who can. This looks less like bending myself into impossible shapes to save the day and more like praying for the people and places I care for.
This looks less like making promises and looks more like embracing (and even explaining to others) my reality, limitations, and how disappointments and desires sometimes persist on this side of heaven.
This looks less like stiffening up at the cascade of toddler tears or disgruntled complaints from my not-so-little boy, and more like teaching him how I have entrusted him into the spacious and gracious hands of the only One who can hold all things, all people.
God is the only one who can — deeply and fully — catch and care for our every wish, dream, want, need, joy, heartbreak, fear, and tear. May we come to Him and cry on Him — for every little and not-so-little thing.