Amid the darkest part of the night his feet skate across the cold tile floor till he is standing, teetering and breathless, by my bed. “Mama, I had a bad dream.” Even through the blackness I can see his eyes glazed with fear and lingering tendrils of sleep.
I sit up in bed. I take his hand in mine, look him in the eye and invite him to take a deep breath with me. He always does. He comes to a little in the span between our slow inhale and exhale. “You’re alright, Justin, you are awake and safe at home with me. Emma’s all right, she’s sleeping in her room. Papa’s okay, too.” He nods slowly, registering the truths I’ve just spoken into the night air between us.
Then I tell him he can return to bed – all is well, we’re all safe. He shuffles slowly down the hall and burrows back under his blankets. The nightmare ends. He won’t wake again until morning.
Every time I hear those fast-moving feet approach, I prepare to give a salvation oracle to my son. I wake him up to the reality that he isn’t under threat anymore, but safe in my room where night terrors possess no power to hurt him. My singular goal in that midnight moment – make sure he knows that he’s safe. Once he understands what’s real, the menacing phantoms in his room are unmasked, no longer real, and no longer scary.
I owe this bit of wisdom to Walter Brueggemann, who wrote somewhere that a salvation oracle is meant to break the power of nightmares by reminding us that all is well. I think I took the advice a bit more literally than he intended, but salvation oracles are how we confront and dismantle nightmares in our house now.
When we hear the words fear not in the Bible, we’ve most likely been launched into a salvation oracle…