Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Gift of Sleep

The young live with the delusion that they know everything. Especially in the teen years. I remember it well: Suddenly you think you’re in the possession of the world’s greatest knowledge. But as we get older, and hopefully grow wiser, it becomes obvious we don’t know nearly as much as we thought.

We don’t even have to wait until our teen years to become established know-it-alls. I recall a time when I was in Maryland visiting with an aunt, uncle and cousin. It seems I was about 10 years old. For whatever reason I declared, “It’s too bad we have to sleep. If we could stay awake all the time, we could do so many more things.”

My uncle, probably in his 40s at the time, burst into laughter. “Never go to sleep? Are you kidding?” Decades later I understand why he saw the humor in my brash statement. Yes, on average we spend about one-third of our lives with eyes shut and minds in neutral, but that’s a gift. An absolute, necessary, priceless gift.

For frazzled parents, sometimes the most beautiful
sight can be a sleeping child.
For parents, sleep is beneficial not only for themselves but also for giving them a much-needed respite from their precious, but demanding, energy-sapping offspring. Many evenings, between 8 and 9, a collective sigh of relief escapes as little ones around the globe close their eyes, drift into Dreamland, and Mom and Dad shift their mental gears from high alert.

At different stages of life we may choose to limit sleep, whether we’re in college cramming the night before an important exam, putting in extra hours to meet an important deadline at work, or trying to complete necessary chores at home that have been neglected for too long.

But eventually, sleep does – and must – come. And most of the time, to borrow the famous phrase of the legendary TV icon Speedy Alka-Seltzer, “Oh, what a relief it is!” Just as our smartphones, tablets and laptop computers need recharging, so do our minds and bodies, especially after periods of high stress. Sleep is how we do it.

Not surprisingly, the Bible has lots to say about sleep – its use, and abuse. At times, whether we’re fretting over unpaid bills, a family crisis, or challenges at work, sleep doesn’t come easily. Our minds keep spinning, seeking desperately to find solutions.

Sometimes sleeplessness is necessary, even helpful. We might awaken in the middle of the night, the proverbial idea-lightbulb glowing with a solution. But often God is telling us not to worry and agonize over our pressures and problems. Instead, He says, get some sleep and things will be easier to deal with in the morning.

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones” (Psalm 127:2). Much of the time, when we feel at wit’s end, the Lord is telling us, “Chill out. Get some sleep. I’ve got this.”

We read about the stressed-out prophet Elijah, who successfully confronted false prophets, saw God perform miraculous acts, and accurately predicted the end to a 3½-year drought. But when he heard the evil queen Jezebel had demanded that he be killed, Elijah fled, emotionally, physically and spiritually spent.

“’I have had enough, Lord,’ Elijah said. ‘Take my life. I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep…. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’… He ate and drank and then lay down again” (1 Kings 19:4-6). Rather than chastising the courageous man of God, the Lord prescribed food – and sleep – to enable him to re-energize for further service.

Often in response to a crisis we want to shout, “Do something! Anything! Just do something!” But sometimes the best something to do is get some sleep, even a quick “power nap” to help clear the cobwebs from our overtaxed minds.

At the same time the Bible offers another perspective. It says sleep is beneficial, but not to excess. “Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare” (Proverbs 20:13). “I went past the field of the sluggard… the man who lacks judgment…. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 24:30-34).

So the principle of moderation applies: You sleep, you reap. But you snooze, you lose.

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