I’ve never heard this hymn sung in church before. The topics indicate that it’s a hymn of closing, but the topic “evening” seems a better fit to me. It’s less a hymn to sing at the close of a meeting and more one to sing before heading to bed. Since I’m rarely at church just before bed, I’ve never really been in a situation where I’d expect to hear it at church.
At just four lines and sixteen bars (and a scant 44 syllables), this is one of the shortest hymns in the book. In fact, it’s short enough that I’m going to quote it to you in full below. Listen:
Now the day is over;
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.
Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With thy tend’rest blessing
May our eyelids close.
That’s it. It’s getting dark, we’re getting tired, and we’d like His blessing as we go to sleep. We ask Him to watch over us as we sleep. We’re the ones singing to Him, but with just a bit of tweaking, it wouldn’t be hard to see this as a lullaby He sings softly to us as we drift off.
The image of a protective Savior keeping watch over us is a tender one. I have a little girl we’re training to go to sleep by herself, and while she’s getting better at it, she’s still resistant. One of us will set her down in her crib, and she’ll stay calm as long as she can see us. But the moment we step away and turn off the light, she starts to cry. She wants someone to be there with her. She wants to know that someone is there to protect her.
We’re much the same. We go through our adult lives having to take responsibility for ourselves, and in time, for others, but we all have moments where we want someone to protect us, and more often than not, those moments come when it’s dark. I think it’s no accident that we are counseled to pray before we go to bed for the night. It not only serves as a benediction on the day, but also as a safeguard against the time when our fears and anxieties often come out most powerfully.
The Book of Mormon prophet Alma counseled as much to his son Helaman:
Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
We are to pray always, but praying just before bed is mentioned explicitly as an ideal time to pray. (It’s also mentioned in Proverbs.) As we sleep, we entrust ourselves to His gentle care.
The catch, though, and what makes me different from the Lord (among many other things), is that while I love my daughter, I also don’t want to have to maintain unbroken eye contact with her all night, every night. I’d like to get some rest, too. My goal is to get her to a point where she feels secure enough that she can go to sleep without seeing someone standing over her. He, however, has no difficulty standing watch for the entire night, and for all of the nights. His love is all-encompassing. He can be, and is, there for us every time a bad dream wakes us in a cold sweat. He’s there for us when worries and doubt keep our rest fitful and fleeting. He’s there to pull the blanket back over us so that we can sleep soundly. And when we pray at night, we invite Him to keep that watch and trust ourselves to His care. Our eyelids close, knowing that we will surely enjoy His “tend’rest blessing.”
Image credit: “Starry Night,” Flickr user KΛ13, 2005, via Flickr. CC-NY-NC-ND 2.0