A child’s first night in foster care is a confusing and fearful moment in time. The best word I can use to describe that moment is vulnerable. I wish everyone could witness that moment so they could grasp both the depth of helplessness and sorrow of a broken family, as well as the power and comfort of a Christian family. I know for certain that if you witnessed those first few moments, it would change you forever.
That’s what happened to a new foster family I talked to recently. They told me about their anxiety-filled car ride to pick up their first foster child at a shelter. Four-year old Sean was waiting outside on the sidewalk, dwarfed by a shelter worker. He stood with a banana in one hand, nervously shifting his feet, his sneakers two sizes too big. When they got home, they showed him around the house and then to his new room. After they prayed a bed-time prayer, they tucked him in for the night. Sean fell asleep right away, while they were up all night wondering, praying, excited and hopeful. They were now responsible for the little boy sleeping in the next room. At breakfast the next morning, they asked Sean how he slept. His face lit up as he replied with a mixture of relief and joy, “There are no monsters here!”
I don’t know about you, but in the home I grew up in, monsters were infrequent guests. And if they did have the guts to show up in my closet, they had a lot to fear because my dad was just down the hall. When I was afraid of the dark, all I had to do was run to my parents’ room and everything would be okay. The same is true for my sons today. When I feel the 3:00am tap on my shoulder, see eyes like saucers and feel a pounding heartbeat, I know what to do. It’s time to check the closets, say a prayer, and lay my son back down in a safe place.
Fear at night comes naturally to children, and they need their parents help to know how to defeat it. God knows this about us. As a Father, he invites us to come to his room at night and find safety. Proverbs 3:24 says, “If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” The psalmist, King David, often mentions God helping him to sleep or dwell in safety. In Psalm 4:8, David writes, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
No one can beat up GOD! No monster, or dragon, or bad guy can defeat our Heavenly Father – and that knowledge makes us all feel safe as God’s children.
But so many kids from broken homes do not have this source of comfort. There is no parent down the hall to wake up. No knowledge of a God they can run to for safety. Nothing to do except sit in the dark – listening to the sound of their heart beating in silent fear. And while many of these children sit in fear with no one to help them, a little bit of their soul dies. They learn there is no one they can trust, no one that will come when they cry out, no one that is strong enough to really help them.
The absence of good sleep also means the absence of dreams. After all, dreams for the future are hard to come by when it takes a supreme effort just to get through the day. Sleep is especially hard for the kids that wake up to sexual abuse, nightmares or hunger pains. At 4KIDS, we talk to children every week whose greatest fear is nighttime, because that’s often when the beatings or abuse comes their way. It is in the night that the enemy of our souls does his worst, keeping his dark promise to be the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). This darkness and fear also robs a child’s future. People often wonder why children in foster care have such poor academic performance in school. Research shows us the clear link between sleeplessness and its side effects: decreased attention span, weak immune system, anxiety and depression.
This is where the power of the Christian family breaks through – because light is always more powerful than darkness. As broken children come into families where God is at the center, they intuitively sense the difference…“there are no monsters here.”
I remember tucking in a foster child named Joseph on his first night in our home. As my wife and I put our sons to bed, we followed our usual bedtime ritual of tickle torture, wrestle mania, hugs and prayers. Joseph watched intently from the safety of his bed, soaking it all in with wide-eyed wonder. For us it was a normal evening, but from the look on Joseph’s face it was a scene out of a fantasy movie to him. And then he said something I will never forget, “My mom, she hits me… can I stay here?”
In that moment, I was reminded of the two very different worlds that co-exist in every neighborhood. Families where children grow up in fear and families where a child knows she is safe. When a child can sleep in peace, she will thrive. She will dream. She will take risks and do something great with her life because the security of her family will become a springboard for her future.
God’s perfect provision for every child is amazingly simple – a family. There is a calming power associated with being tucked in at night. The comfort of being safely laid down for the day and prayed over – ultimately entrusted to the ONE who is stronger, wiser, and immune to the monsters and the dragons of our past. Knowing that you are watched over and loved brings a peace of mind that leads to rest. A sweet sleep that feels safe also encourages bonding, trust and human connection. It is a place where the nightmares fade, and hurting kids can become children again.
At 4KIDS, our vision is a home for every child in crisis, and we won’t rest until we get more children in homes where they can have safe sleep and begin to dream again. To learn more about how you can help kids in our community have sweet dreams, visit 4kidsofsfl.org/sweetdreams.
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.” – G. K. Chesterton