Lyrics: Every child deserves a comforting bedtime ritual: bedtime stories, bedtime prayers, bedtime snacks. By a thousand peaceful night falls, little sleepy heads grow up into emotionally secure adults.
Even more privileged is the child who regularly drifts into dreamland to the sound of singing. (Yes, I know how exhausted parents often feel at bedtime.) Turn off the artificial sound tracks and sing with your children. Sing lullabies to the wee ones. It’s a priceless investment you make toward their wellness and spiritual equilibrium.”Richer than I, you can never be--/I had a Mother who [sang] to me.” (Apologies to S. Gillilan.)
Classic children’s literature endures because grown-ups love it. Baring-Gould’s bedtime hymn evokes our own childhood memories. For we are merely big children, and the natural desire for sweet sleep is usually strengthened, not diminished, with the passing years. In The Gospel in Hymns, Albert E. Bailey claims, quite remarkably, this poem is “one of the most exquisite and untouchable children’s hymns in the English or any language.”
Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924) wrote this poem for the children at a mission near Wakefield, England. Under the title, he wrote, “When thou liest down thou shalt not be afraid; yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet” (Pro 3:24).
Children often have bedtime fears, and this song gently allays those fears one by one. Jesus is here even in the darkness, He gives you sleep and “bright visions” instead of scary dreams, and angels guard your bed. God also takes care of people in danger at night, like sailors. Best of all, tomorrow will be a bright new day. You will wake up refreshed and confidently meet the eye of a good God. As Bailey also points out, this song is much more reassuring to little minds than “if I should die before I wake.”
Music: Joseph Barnby (1838-1896), of London, England, was a musical giant of his day. He wrote at least 246 hymn tunes, as well as many choral works.
This tune MERRIAL (allegedly named for his daughter Mary L.) was written in 1868. Even with a scarcely discernible melody, the composition is uniquely memorable. The static soprano line murmurs like a chant and quietly carries the spirit-calming line up a fourth, and then back down to a gentle landing. The final phrase lands so slowly and so satisfyingly that the Amen seems like a musically disturbing appendage. However, it is a bedtime prayer, and prayers get Amen’s. The wisdom of the Word is in it, and the Amen properly signals the dismissal to bed.