I have received some awful presents over the years. That’s particularly frustrating since I’m a very easy person to buy gifts for. It’s quite simple: just get me books. If you don’t know which ones, ask. If you don’t want to ask, grab a gift card. If a gift card is too complicated, slip some money in a napkin with “Book” written on it. It can even be a used napkin, I don’t care.
But no, people want to get creative. They try to come up with something unique and inspiring. So instead of a good book, I end up with another gadget or gizmo, along with an opportunity to practice my admittedly rusty etiquette, smiling awkwardly and trying not to let on that I really just want to go back to my office and finish reading the book I bought myself for my birthday.
Unless you’re my daughter and your gift is some amazing thing you made out of clay with your very own hands, skip the creativity and buy me a book.
So yes, I’ve gotten some frustrating gifts over the years. But I never expected one of them to come from God.
God’s Bad Gift
You’re probably thinking, “God doesn’t give bad gifts.” Oh yeah? Read this.
“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)
He gave us sleep as a gift? What kind of a gift is that?
Sleep is a complete waste of time. You lay there in unproductive unconsciousness for hours on end, wasting time that could be spent
watching TV preaching the gospel. I know that some people claim to enjoy sleeping, but I think they’re confused. They may enjoy the process of falling asleep–reading for a while, getting drowsy, turning off the light, and drifting away while thinking about their plans for tomorrow–and some weird people even enjoy waking up. But who enjoys sleep itself?
Sleep is stupid.
By the end of my life, assuming I make it to the average life expectancy of an American male, I’ll have wasted approximately 20 years of my life in that comatose state. And God calls that a gift? If I gave one of my daughters the gift of being in a coma for 1/3 or her life, someone would arrest me.
There’s a reason the Bible uses sleep as an analogy for death (e.g. 1 Kings 2:10). But the fact is that you only die once, but you fall asleep every day. Sleep is the real enemy here.
And God calls that a gift. How can that be?
5 Reasons Sleep Might Actually Be a Gift
I’m going to go out on a limb and contemplate the possibility that God is right and I’m wrong. That seems shocking, but it’s something we should at least consider. And if that’s the case, then we should be able to find at least some reasons why sleep may not be quite as horrible a gift as it first appears. So let’s give it a shot.
1. Sleep Is a Sign of Our Creatureliness
You know what’s really frustrating about this whole sleep thing? God doesn’t sleep (Ps 121:4). How is that fair? He gets to stay up late and watch all the cool movies while the rest of us have to go to bed. No matter how much I stamp my feet and insist, “I’m not tired,” while stretching my eyes as wide as possible, I still have to sleep. No fair.
And every night as my eyes slowly close, that swiftly approaching slumber reminds me of one fundamental truth: I am not God.
2. Sleep Is a Sign of Our Dependence
I think this is what I hate most about sleep. I don’t like to depend. Maybe if I’d served in the military, played more team sports, or grown up in a less individualistic culture this wouldn’t be such a problem. But I don’t think so. Deep down, I think we all want to be in control to some extent. Even Adam and Eve refused to depend, and they had it far better than we do.
But unconsciousness is a pretty strong sign of dependence. In sleep, I can’t do anything for myself. And that reminds me of the reality that I don’t do anything of consequence by myself. When I sleep, the world continues, both because of God’s providential governance and because of the faithful efforts of those billions of people who surround me
As much as I might think that I’m the captain of my fate, I’m more like a cabin boy. Sleep humbles me.
3. Sleep Is a Sign of Our Vulnerability
If you’ve ever spent a week as a camp counselor for 12-year-old boys, you know the truth: sleep = vulnerable. It’s hard enough to keep track of those brilliant, creative, and ruthless little hellions when you’re awake. But slip into the weakness of sleep while they’re still conscious and you’ve got trouble on your hands, and probably something on your face.
But I suppose that’s true whenever you sleep. Every night you place yourself in a condition of breathtaking vulnerability. And this may be a more appropriate reason for correlating sleep and death, not because sleep is a tragic result of the fall, but because sleep symbolizes our vulnerability and reminds us that every waking breath is a gift.
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
A child’s prayer. An insightful reminder of our vulnerability. Both.
4. Sleep Is a Sign of Our Trust
Every night when I lay down next to my wife, I place myself in her hands. I’m at her mercy. If she was anything other than the amazing woman I know her to be, that would be a terrifying prospect. Is there anything we do that expresses trust more completely than falling asleep next to someone?
And that’s what we all do every night. We fall asleep next to God, implicitly putting our trust in him, confident that he holds us in his arms. David said it well: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” (Ps. 3:5).
5. Sleep Is a Sign of Our Destiny
I said earlier that God doesn’t sleep, but he did rest (Gen 2:2). Then he established the Sabbath as a day of rest (Exod 31:13), not because we’re lazy, but as a reminder that we all find our perfect rest in God. And finally, in the New Testament, that theme takes a startling turn as we discover that our entire future destiny can be described as rest, a rest that we have not yet entered, but for which we desperately long (Heb 4:1-11).
In this context, though, “rest” does not simply mean the unconsciousness of sleep, but a state in which we eternally declare to the entire universe the gloriousness of God, our dependence upon him, our vulnerability before him, and our complete trust in him.
Sleep is not just slipping off into the abyss of unconsciousness. It subtly testifies that God is God, that we are his people, and that we live in complete vulnerability and dependence before him and upon each other, every day, forever.
To be honest, I still don’t like sleep. Something deep inside me resists the message sleep whispers in my ear every night, a message of God’s faithfulness, my creatureliness, and our togetherness. Falling asleep could be an act of worship. But I’m not there yet. I still resist, clinging to the myth of my independence, my sovereignty, my invulnerability.
Someday, maybe even in this lifetime, the truth will slip by my drooping eyelids, sink into my brain, and change my heart. I can only hope.