walk with me
“Dad, will you pray with me?”
Those are the first words that register, disembodied in the darkness. Those words, maybe six of the most powerful words there are, rouse me completely from thick sleep, even though she addresses her dad. With my eyes closed, I can see her huddled down close to him, bare-kneed, wrapping her arms around her own waist. Her voice sounds small, dwarfed by whatever haunts have awakened her fear.
“What happened?” I hear him say, deep and gentle next to me. The words come out laced with sleep, still half-buried, but sharply alert.
“I know it’s probably nothing, but…” I drift. Her father listens. The next thing I hear is his prayer, and I see without seeing at all the way he wraps a strong arm around her shoulders, the way he carries and lifts and holds her all at once.
When he says “Amen,” she says, “Dad, will you walk with me?” To her room, she means. She needs his strength walking her down the dark hall, as though whatever torments her will shrink in the shadow of his steps. My eyes are closed, but I’m smiling. Smiling right into the thick, silent dark, right from the space between awake and sleep. Kevin already has walked right with her; has just carried her in his own two arms right to the throne room of God, father talking to Father about the precious child who belongs to them both. But the hallway still feels lonely in the climax of night. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4). In my heart, the Psalmist words fall softly, like the mist of a dream. The greatest thing any father can ever do is walk his child down a Cimmerian way. Because the moment he pulls himself from sleep, bending and lifting his long legs away from rest; offering her his warmth, the shelter of his arm; whispering his blessing again, kneeling beside her bed, in just those moments, she learns the meaning of the words with me. She will never forget what they mean. Right now, while I am yet bound by some vaporish cords to limbo, my daughter learns the with-ness of God himself, the Force in whose mighty steps the shadows really do melt away, in the person of her father.
Wordlessly I offer my own prayer of thanksgiving before I drift completely back to sleep, offering thanks that these are the two questions she asks. First, “Will you pray for me,” because her dad routinely sets aside any notion of his own strength in favor of the supremacy of God’s power. He has told her plainly, in fact, his mouth set in a firm line, that he is nothing apart from God. The words made her cry until he explained with a smile why this is a joyous truth, why the first place he will always take her is to God. And then the second, “Will you walk with me,” because she’s learned over time that there’s nothing wimpy at all about being a child of God, that the title gives her own dad a measure of authority over evil. So they pray and then they walk into the dark hall together strong and unafraid, for God is with them.