Maybe it was the faint click as they closed the front door. Perhaps it was my heightened intuition or merely an uncanny coincidence. I can’t say for sure what caused me to wake up with a start. I could see the landing light shining onto my feather eiderdown through a crack in the door, which was always left ajar at my request. The shaft of light was immediately reassuring, so I pulled back the bed covers, slipped my feet into the cozy slippers beside the bed, and headed for the bathroom just in case that was the reason I’d woken up. I wondered what time it was. It felt as though I’d barely got into bed, but perhaps I’d slept longer than it seemed.
On my way to the bathroom, I called down the stairs softly in a sing-song rhythm, “just going to the bathroom!” It was customary for me to announce an intention to my parents whenever I wandered about upstairs after bedtime, so they’d know what I was doing, and I avoided the chastising order to get back to bed! I peered down the flight of stairs and saw light coming from the living room, but no one answered. Since an acknowledgment was not forthcoming, I proceeded to the toilet, but on my way back to bed, I again called down the stairs. This time I declared I was going back to bed, and I raised my voice to just below a shout. Nothing! No response. This was most unusual—one or another parent would always answer. Then it occurred to me that they were already in bed and had forgotten to switch off the living room lights.
From my vantage point on the small landing area, it was easy for me to glance through their open bedroom door to determine if they were in bed asleep. Alas, the room was dark, but I could see my parents’ twin beds, neatly made and pushed together. They were unoccupied. No Mum and no Dad. I felt anxious as I raised my voice a decibel and yelled down the stairs more demandingly, “Where are you?”
Still, there was no response. What could have happened? Fear seized me, and I quickly ran into my bedroom, turned on the overhead light, and fumbled for my clothes. I don’t know where I thought I was going, I definitely was not about to venture outside into the dark of night to look for my parents, but in my eight-year-old mind, I wasn’t thinking reasonably—I only knew I needed to find my parents because I was afraid of the dark at the best of times, and apparently I was now alone in the house. My two biggest fears—the darkness of night and being alone—struck a somber chord inside my young being. Had they abandoned me? I was bewildered and confused as a situation such as this was something I’d never experienced. My parents were always there.
Had they come to some harm? Where could they be, and why had they left me alone?
My mind raced, and my imagination ran amok as I exchanged my pajamas for my school uniform—the clothes neatly laid out at the foot of my bed—the ones I was to wear to school the next day. As I hurriedly dressed, I listened intently for tell-tale sounds—my parents’ familiar footsteps climbing the stairs, or voices announcing their presence. But all was eerily quiet. My eyes welled up with hot tears that spilled over and rolled down my cheeks. Fully dressed, I sat on the edge of the bed frantically trying to focus on what action to take. It suddenly came to me. I would overcome this fear in a logical, sensible manner that would make my parents proud. Thus, were the ramblings of this timid eight-year-old girl, alone and afraid—and illogically concluding that if my actions solicited their approval, Mum and Dad would magically appear.
Parental teaching by example and instruction reminded me to tackle situations with careful thought, followed by decisive action. So, what else was I to do? I felt the fear, shed some tears, neither of which had helped my plight, so I jumped into action. I would face the fear factor first—head on! I opened the drawer in the small nightstand by my bed and pulled out a penknife! It was a gift from my Dad intended to accompany my fishing tackle paraphernalia for when we’d take excursions to the river. The knife was about two inches long with an inlaid mother of pearl handle. A single two-inch blade extended the length of the knife to about four inches. I did take it on our fishing trips, but more often, I used it to sharpen pencils to a fine point. I kept it in the nightstand drawer for several reasons, one of which was for convenience—easy access. It was also comforting to know the little knife was near me at night if a monster emerged from the dark shadows, imaginary or otherwise.
I gripped the penknife and slowly extracted the shiny blade being careful not to cut myself. The edge was very sharp but would not pose a threat to anything larger than a mouse, let alone a monster, but then I was only thinking about my plan so I was undeterred by the insignificance of my weapon. I was proud of myself for taking matters into my own hands and making use of what few resources came to mind. I imagined how creative my parents would think I was, and that offered further encouragement.
Resourcefulness was upheld and applauded in our household and worn as a badge of honor. I took a deep breath, puffed out my chest, and figuratively pinned on that badge as I set about securing the house of any potential threat. In doing so, perhaps my fears would subside. Why in the world did I think a tiny knife could protect me? But I wasn’t thinking rationally; I was a scared child reacting and holding myself together as best I could.
Methodically, I investigated all the concealed areas upstairs. I started by looking under my bed and in the wardrobe moving the clothes to make sure nothing was hiding among them, then I did the same in my parents’ room. I peered behind the bathroom door—all was clear. Timidly, I ventured downstairs and found everything quiet and in order. In the living/dining room area, hot embers in the fireplace glowed behind the fireguard and threw out some welcome warmth, but the chairs and sofa were empty. I investigated the kitchen and opened the pantry door. It was too small to conceal anything much, but I checked anyway. No sign of anyone. The area under the stairs hid nothing to worry about, so I passed it by with a cursory glance and scurried back up the stairs to my room, thoroughly dejected. My heart was pounding. My parents were nowhere in sight.
My foray with the knife assured me nothing bad was hidden or lurking in the shadows, and while that concern had lessened, the dread of being alone in the house was increasing by the second. I folded up the penknife and laid it on the nightstand. I began to cry—no, I sobbed uncontrollably! I was cold, alone, filled with anxiety—and I had lots of unanswered questions.
Where did they go, and why did they leave me? What will I do if they don’t come back?
In search of warmth and to escape the cold night air upstairs, I retreated to the safety of my bed, curled my small body into a tight ball with my clothes still on, and pulled the covers over my head. I continued to cry as I pressed my face into the bed and closed my eyes in the hopes of surrendering to sleep. Perhaps when I woke up, Mum and Dad would be home, and then all would be well. It would be like it never happened. Those were hopeful thoughts, but in no way did they ease my fear and sadness or give me the peace for which I longed. I hated feeling so alone.
I’ve learned when we are most alone, we discover that we are not alone at all! Suddenly, while sinking into the depths of despair, a thought popped into my young mind.
“He lives inside you, Anthea,” my grandfather had said, “You have only to call His name, and He is there! He will answer you and protect you! He will give you strength and comfort you.”
So, I stopped crying and cried out to Jesus. I hummed one of my favorite hymns, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and I asked Jesus to bring back my mother and father. I recalled that Grandad had read me stories about Jesus and His love for little children. A calm peace came over me as I focused on thoughts about Jesus.
After a while I dared to peek out from beneath the covers. I turned to face the bedroom door, straining my ears towards the stairs while listening intently. What was that? Did I hear something? Was it a key in the door? Soft voices? Quiet footsteps? Dare I get out of bed?
I hurried, still fully clothed and full of hope to the top of the stairs. Oh, joy! There they were—coming up to bed—both of them! Thank you, Jesus!
Imagine their astonishment to find me, dressed for school, and greeting them on the landing. I admonished them with a “Where did you go?” and the most disapproving look I could muster. My tear-stained face was a dead giveaway as they patiently listened to my sad tale of discovering I was alone, getting dressed, and my swing around the house with penknife in hand. They could see how disturbed I was. Suffice it to say; they had just slipped out to the neighbors next door for a short visit. I imagine they might have had a chuckle later, but at that moment, they hugged me, professed their love, and assured me they’d never leave me.
At the time, I was just relieved to have them home—it was a happy ending. Life continued as it always had. The years passed. While I never forgot that incident, the trauma hadn’t caused any permanent scars. On the contrary, I was profoundly impacted by the experience—perhaps more beneficially as I grew older and wiser.
Looking back now, I realize it was a pivotal episode in my life—a real game changer—one of those encounters that strengthened me and prepared me for the future. The lessons I failed to fully understand back then were embedded in the experience and emerged many years later—lessons I could use myself and instill in others.
Perhaps you can relate to what I’ve written. Maybe you’ve enjoyed hearing this story and were interested in how I handled things in my childish way. I wonder if you’ve ever felt alone and afraid, or if you, as a parent, ever left your sleeping children by themselves for a short time, thinking they’d stay sound asleep and safe, but quite unexpectedly they woke up and when you returned you found them crying and calling out for you. Sadly, I’m guilty of doing that on one occasion. Considering my experience as a child, you’d think I’d know better, wouldn’t you?
I hope you won’t miss the main message in this post or overlook some important lessons from the events as they occurred. As a child, I certainly didn’t catch them all—not even close. But what was important is that I did learn something very meaningful. When I felt most alone and abandoned, I was not alone at all—as a believer in Christ, His Holy Spirit was planted in me to be my guide and comforter. Even as an eight-year-old, although I didn’t fully understand it, I felt the power within me, and the peace I received. I knew it was not of my human strength but grace freely given from God. That much stayed with me, and while I may not always have implemented what I learned that night, I have done so more often than not.
As time went by, and sporadic memories of that night flashed before me as an adult, I recognized a few valuable lessons to share. One that comes to mind right away is how fortunate I was in having a family member who taught me I can count on Jesus to be with me always, in the good times, the downturns, and yes, even in the darkest of days.
I also learned that we may not always have our loved ones with us, to lean on, to protect us and comfort us. There are no guarantees, and bad things can happen to good people. I discovered that self-sufficiency is not always enough to calm fears and bring peace in the midst of a storm, but God can.
Do you believe that we are allowed difficult circumstances to not only strengthen us but to be encouraging to others we meet in life? I believe that with all my heart. Many years later, I was able to instill that concept in a frightened 5-year old boy—by assuring him that Jesus is with us always. Since His spirit lives within us, He is there—wherever we go. I like to think planting that little seed of faith in his heart made a difference in his life.
I am a resourceful, independently minded, and self-sufficient woman, so it’s never been easy for me to admit weakness, and I often try to go it alone. I put my best foot forward as we Brits often say. You can see how I played that out as a child taking matters into my own hands with the penknife scenario, which was not a bad thing given the circumstances but didn’t alleviate the fear. You will also notice even though I had proven that there was no physical presence in the house to harm me, the fear persisted. I was scared to be alone, and peace of mind was not forthcoming.
It wasn’t until I called out to Jesus, beseeched Him for help, and tapped into His strength that I received peace. Isn’t it comforting to know that the Lord of the universe is a whisper away? He loves us, knows us intimately, and He hears our prayers. He is for us, not against us.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)