Sleeping, Resting, Rising and God

Papa bear growled, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed.”

There may be many reasons why we don’t get the perfect night’s sleep, or even why we can’t get to bed!   “For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.” (Isaiah 28:20)   There indeed are many things that can bug you in bed and keep you awake.

Following my surgeries and chemotherapy, sleepless nights were common, so I had time to consider God’s word regarding sleep.  If you find yourself having trouble falling to sleep, you might remember the scripture:

In bed I remember You; as I lie awake I reflect on You, mindful of how you helped me, and I rejoice in the safety of your wings.  (Psalm 63:6)

It is a verse from the Psalms that Christians for centuries have been saying as part of morning prayer.   St. John Chrysostom said that in his day, that is, the 4th Century, saying Psalm 63 in the morning was already part of the ancient tradition of the Church.    You can join Christians from the first centuries of the Church in praying this psalm.

If sleep escapes you, take the time to remember God and all God’s contact with you during the day.   You don’t even have to have lots of words, you can remember God and keep yourself in God’s presence.  And though it may be hard to do, work on rejoicing in the night, especially a sleepless night, as the verse 63:6 says.   It helps to remember the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  Always and in all circumstances includes the middle of the night when sleep frustratingly eludes you.

Monks for their part came to see sleep as something to be avoided and even included sleeping on the hard ground as a virtue.  But Christ promised to give us rest, and the Scriptures do say God gives the ones He loves sleep (Psalm 127:2).  Ill health deprives us of sleep, which is not good, but on the other hand can increase our prayer life.  God’s creatures do enjoy the rest in sleep that God bestows on us all.

Whenever you lie down to rest, pray:

Into Your hands, O Lord, do I commend my spirit: Bless me, have mercy on me and give me eternal life.

If you wake up in the night, you might remember Psalm 3:5 –

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.

You awake – whether after a long night’s sleep or in the middle of a disrupted night –  because the Lord sustains you.  Can we be comforted by this thought?  And be thankful for that awakening?   It takes some doing to believe that we are awakened again in the night because of the goodness of the Lord.   In Muslim countries the early morning call to prayer reminds the faithful that prayer is better than sleep.

And if there are just too many things on your mind, too many things you have to get done, so you shorten your sleep, remember these words:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

Being unable to sleep, frequently awakening in the night, or being jolted awake in the middle of sleep make one weary for sure.  When the morning arrives and we need to get up, the sleep which tauntingly escaped us all night, often comes upon us, and we drag ourselves into the morning.

And again the words of the Psalms can come to mind:

As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form. (Psalm 17:15)