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Now I lay me down to sleep

One veteran Christian adds the certainty of heaven to a familiar prayer.

Many of us have tucked our children to bed with the words of a familiar prayer:

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.

Maybe you learned it from your parents and repeated it to a new generation. I remember it as a child, and I know many have used it.

Yet there is something about the prayer that troubles me.

“If I should die before I wake”

For some, what troubles them is the idea of raising the thought of dying in the minds of their children just before they go to sleep. Praying “If I should die before I wake” can be difficult for children at the scariest time of the day, just before “lights out.”

When I look back at the time this prayer was written, I think I can understand the reason for including the idea of death. The prayer came from England before there was a United States. It was included in Thomas Fleet’s New England Prime, which was first printed in 1737. Some suggest the prayer goes back even further.

Death would have been easier for parents and children to understand at that time. Infant mortality was higher. Many families experienced the death of children. In rural settings, children often got sick or had accidents that ended in death. Medical science and doctors were often far away.

But today it’s different. We want to remove the idea of death from our children. So we teach our children to pray:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Guard me, Jesus, through the night;
And wake me in the morning light.

(There are variations, of course.)

But I don’t know if it’s the thought of dying that troubles me about this prayer. As a Christian, I can face death confidently with all the assurances God gives in his Word about heaven and the victory over death Jesus promises us.

“I pray the Lord my soul to take”

I think what troubles me is the request, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It seems to create doubt about the certainty of reaching heaven. As I see it, in fact, it raises an element of uncertainty in my mind about my salvation.

Of course, we have God’s promise that he grants every prayer of his children if it is according to his will. But to me the certainty that a Christian can feel about being received into heaven at death becomes only a possibility in the prayer. The prayer leaves me with a “maybe”—maybe I will and maybe I won’t go to heaven.

So I searched for words that might express such confidence in Jesus as I lay myself down to sleep and considered each night that I might not awake to see the morning light.

I’ve added this thought to the prayer for myself:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I know the Lord my soul will take.

Some may hesitate to include the idea of death at the close of day with their children. Others may choose to say a different prayer. But I still pray it and find it comforting to know that because of Jesus I will certainly enter heaven. For me, as I close my eyes, it’s a reminder of the reason for our peaceful rest. It reminds me that I rest secure for Jesus’ sake.

Author: Harold Hoeppner
Volume 107, Number 09
Issue: September 2020

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