Like most people who are getting a little longer in the tooth, I don’t sleep as well as I used to. I have fond memories of those years as a teenager when I would go to bed at midnight on a Friday night and regain consciousness at noon on Saturday, without having woken up once in between. Those were the days.
Nowadays I don’t sleep so well. I cannot remember the last time I slept clear through the night, without once waking up. These days, if I only wake up once during the night, and if I get back to sleep again without any difficulty, I think it’s been a good night. Most nights, I’m awake at least a couple of times, and it’s pretty normal to have to get up for a while to avoid disturbing my wife. It’s a rare night when I wake up in the morning feeling completely rested and refreshed.
All this gives me a lot more appreciation for a prayer in our Canadian Prayer Book (1959):
‘O Lord, who hast pity for all our weakness: put away from us worry and every anxious fear, that, having ended the labours of the day as in thy sight, and committing our tasks, ourselves, and all we love into thy keeping, we may, now that night cometh, receive as from thee thy priceless gift of sleep; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ (‘Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families: Evening’, BCP p.730).
This prayer speaks to me of trust and gratitude, and of a proper sense of my own role in the world. If I were God, I would not be able to sleep, which is fine because I don’t think God needs sleep. I would be responsible for making sure that everything in all of creation worked as it was meant to work, and for looking out for the safety of all my children – all my billions of children – throughout time and space, on this world and on any other worlds where they might be found. That’s a full time job and admits of no respite. Fortunately, God is up to the task.
I, however, am not, so it’s fortunate that I am not God. I have family and friends to love and a parish to care for, and concerns about things that are happening near and far. However, it is not within my power to effectively care for them all twenty-four hours a day. At some point every day, whether or not I have completed the labours of the day, I nonetheless have to end them. I like the way the prayer is so carefully worded. Many times the day comes to an end before I have ticked off every item on my to-do list. Many times I end my day with work unfinished. So be it. It is time to ‘end the labours of the day as in thy sight’. It is time to entrust it all, finished or unfinished, into God’s safe-keeping, and to go to sleep, confident that he is strong enough to look after it all while I am resting.
Easier said than done! Worry and anxious fear is not easy to let go of. Also, bones and muscles get stiffer with age, and the bladder gets a little more fussy with every passing year, so that often times it’s discomfort that wakes us up during the night, not worry and every anxious fear. There are things we can do to make sleep easier (watch what we eat in the evening, dim the lights slowly, don’t get the brain buzzing by watching movies or reading blogs at 11.00 p.m. etc.), but even when those things are all done faithfully, in the end, sleep remains a gift. It is not entirely within my control. So I pray that God will give me his priceless gift of sleep. And when he does, I give thanks.
‘We will lay us down in peace and take our rest; for it is thou, Lord, only, that makest us dwell in safety.
‘Thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name. Leave us not, O Lord our God.
‘Preserve us, O Lord, waking, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace. Amen.
‘The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night, and at the last a perfect end; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be with us this night and for evermore. Amen.’
(‘Forms of Prayer to be Used in Families: Evening’, BCP p.731).