I woke up to her panicked crying and rushed up the stairs. As I got to her, she clamored to get out of her crib into my arms, and once I held her, she clung to me as if for dear life and wouldn’t let go. I settled down with Eloise in the rocker and pulled her close. She could hardly catch her breath between tears.
When fear grips us, it’s sometimes hard to get a grip.
I asked Eloise what was wrong, and she told me that a hippo had come into her room to get her. Just as I could reassure her of her safety and begin to calm her down, she started back up again with a wail, “He came into my bed! And he ate me!” Her poor, giant sobs made my heart ache. Sweet babies deserve sweet sleep, and it’s hard when fear starts to creep into their bedtime hours. We sat and rocked as her tears fell into deep, wavering sighs.
It took the better part of an hour to settle Eloise back down that night; her eyes opening with a shot every few minutes in her bed as I sat by her side and whispered prayers and truth. Don’t we all need affirmation of our safety and what’s true sometimes?
The next morning, I was driving Henry to school and I told him about what Eloise had been through the night before. “But it was just a dream,” I told him. “She’s ok now.”
“Yes, but when you’re asleep and you have a bad dream, it feels really real to you right then,” he said to me. I loved his validation of Eloise’s feelings in this moment. He reminded me that fear is real, and that it can be arresting. When it’s real in our hearts, it’s real. No doubt about it.
Later the same afternoon, Eloise was playing with some of her animals when she brought a small, plastic hippo over to me. “This is the hippo that ate me, Mommy,” she said with sadness in her voice. We agreed then that we would “lock” him in a cabinet so he couldn’t get back out again. After doing this the first time, Eloise went back and forth between the playroom and the cabinet a handful of times more.
“And this one, too, Mommy. I’m gonna lock him up, too…And this one. And this one.” We put away ten or a dozen plastic animals before she was settled that they had all be sufficiently locked away. She was safe.
I took a photo of Eloise as she did this, because I wanted to remember this sweet moment with her and just how innocent it was for her to lock away her nightmares to feel safe. And then as I looked at the picture, I realized something…
How beautiful is it when we can name our fears? And how important is it for us to be able to take them captive after naming them? Eloise’s instinct was to lock them away so they couldn’t get to her again. How much better off would I be if I always did this, too?!
That very night, Eloise awoke to the same fear again. The hippo was back, even though she had locked it away. “I’m safe?” she asked me unassuredly, but as if she really wanted to believe it as we came down the stairs and she crawled into our bed. And minutes later, when she wanted daddy to keep her safe, too, that sweet little babe pitter-pattered down the hall in the dark, conquering her fear alone (“There’s no zebras or lions in the hallway, either, right Mommy?”) to find the one who could keep her the safest of all and to bring him to bed, too.
To me, this is just the perfect picture of pursuing what our hearts need when we fear and need a protector to help us conquer it. Sure, I could calm her heart for moment and affirm truth for her spirit, but Eloise needed her daddy to take care of the fear once and for all so she could rest. As he came to bed, Eloise snuggled up close to him and tucked herself down tight in his care. “I’m safe,” she whispered. And she finally fell asleep.
We fear because we’re human. We fear because we do not know, or because we need to be reminded of truth to calm our hearts. We fear because the enemy wants at us, and because he attacks us where we have doubt. He wants more than anything for us to be captivated by fear and not free to live in light.
I love that God used Eloise and Henry this week to remind me how important it is to acknowledge our fears and to lock them away. When they have found their rightful place, and when we have pursued what’s true in the arms of our Father, then we can rest in peace and experience light in new and hopeful ways.
Praying away all of our hippos as we name them and take them captive,