In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.
I am going there to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and
take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
As a child, I idolized my aunt’s granddaughter. Lisa was everything I was not. Lisa’s parents allowed her bright red hair to hang loosely around her face. My mother always pulled my stringy brown hair back into a tight ponytail. Lisa dressed in flowing outfits and often went barefoot, like her mother. I was required to “dress appropriately” and keep my shoes on. Lisa didn’t have to attend church, pray before meals, or ask permission to reach into the cookie jar. I did.
One day Lisa invited me to spend the night at her house. It was the most exciting proposition I had ever received in my eight years of life. She extended the invitation during a visit at my grandmother’s house (her great-grandmother), which was right next door to my home. It would have been easy for me to run across the field and pack an overnight bag. But mom said no.
Thankfully, Lisa’s mom came to my rescue and said something about us girls seeing so little of each other and that it would be fun for us to have more time together. It was the summer, after all, and since we didn’t have school the next day, Lisa’s mom promised to drive me home after breakfast in the morning. Mom finally gave in, and my adventure began.
The Bible is full of adventure. It tells us that Jesus and his disciples traveled all over Judea. They attended a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-2) and dined at a tax collector’s house in Jericho (Luke 19:1-10). On the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, they saw Jesus drive demons out of two possessed men and into nearby pigs (Matthew 8:28-34), and on the western shore he healed the sick (Matthew 14:34-36). Jesus and his disciples went as far north as Tyre, where he healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24) and as far south as Bethany, where he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17-19).
Without public transportation, it’s estimated that Jesus and his disciples traveled over 3,000 miles on foot. And I guarantee they didn’t stay in five-star—or two-star—hotels. This vagabond group likely slept outside, perhaps in makeshift tents that they carried with them. No doubt, they ate together, drank together, and sat around a campfire late at night talking about the day. This is, after all, what is supposed to happen at a sleepover.
Which brings me back to Lisa …
I packed just what was necessary for my one-night stay: toothbrush, pajamas, a change of underwear, and my pillow. Then off we went in Lisa’s station wagon to her rickety house, a whopping 20-minutes away.
I don’t remember what we did that night or whether we ate dinner together or watched TV. But I do remember being tucked into bed by her father and giggling under the covers till Lisa fell asleep. But I did not. Sleep would not come. The bed was strange. The smells were strange. The noises were strange. The light coming through the windows was strange. I missed my parents and my sister’s breathing in the twin bed next to mine. So, I did what any eight-year-old would do in this situation. I started to cry. And once I started, I couldn’t stop.
Somewhere around midnight, Lisa’s dad called my father for help. I tried to explain my fears over the phone, but complete sentences were impossible to deliver through my heavy sobs. I was inconsolable and just wanted to go home. Dad conceded and made the drive to Lisa’s house to pick me up.
My experience with sleepovers had ended disastrously, and any future requests to sleep at a friend’s house would be denied.
I wonder if any of the disciples cried at night when they were far away from loved ones and familiar sounds and scents. Or were they so comfortable in Jesus’ presence that they slept soundly, even on the cold earth? This much I know, they must have felt the safety of God’s presence because no one abandoned the group to return home. “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
When I was in my late 40s, I finally had my first real sleepover with a group of women from my church. I packed just what was necessary: toothbrush, pajamas, my pillow, night cream, and a bottle of wine. Then I jumped into my own car and drove myself 10 minutes down the road to my girlfriend’s house. Five other women did the same. That night, we donned our PJs, popped popcorn, watched a chick flick, drank wine, and talked and laughed until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Before seeking a bed for the night, we prayed together. Sleep came soundly in the shadow of God’s wings.
I am not the best sleeper, but I can attest that when I am surrounded by Christian friends, a sense of peace descends like a warm blanket. I believe our combined faith and our love for God and each other creates a wall of protection that keeps the darkness of night at bay.
As Christians, we are taught to imitate Jesus. Since Jesus and his twelve disciples basically had a sleepover for three years straight, we should all participate in at least one during our adult lives. Don’t you agree? It can take place in a campground, at a cute B&B, or in your own home—wherever you can enjoy fellowship with your Christian friends.
So, pick a date. Call your sisters in Christ. (Or your brothers in Christ if you are male.) Tell them to pack just what is necessary. Then invite Jesus into your gathering and enjoy each other’s company in the shadow of God’s wings. After all, it’s good practice for the biggest sleepover of all time, which is yet to come when we meet in heaven.
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Safe in Your Arms by Josh Baldwin (Bethel Music).
Favorite lyric: “The only shelter I need is the shadow of Your wings.”