Every evening, I strap a mask to my face as I get into bed to sleep. The mask that I wear has straps that make indentions on my cheeks. The foam on the plastic liner creates a seal around my mouth and nose, and I must hasten to attach a hose to it so that I don’t suffocate.
Sound strange? It’s my normal. This is how I sleep.
It’s called CPAP therapy, which stands for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, and I’ve been sleeping with the help of a machine for the last several years. I suffer from moderate to severe sleep apnea. That is, my small airways become obstructed when I sleep. My snoring becomes dramatic. And worst of all, I stop breathing…many, many times an hour.
Doctors tell me that this is not good.
The machine that I fire up as I lay me down to sleep each night pushes air—like a vacuum cleaner on reverse—into my airways to keep them open as I rest. And believe it or not, this inelegant solution works. I sleep more soundly. I wake feeling more rested. I have more energy throughout the day and my health is better than it would be otherwise. It’s true, though. I do look like I’m on life-support while I’m dreaming.
Just prior to this evening ritual, however, my mind is racing. With the loss of my daily activities my head spins with reflections and worries from the day. When I’m able to stop ruminating on the circumstances, conversations, encounters, joys, and sorrows from the day, I begin to problem-solve the next day. Yes, the Braves game earlier was a good distraction, and spending time with my family is always good medicine. But it’s those in-between times that become consumed with mental work. As you are fully aware, the worries of the past and anxieties for the future are both unproductive and soul-sucking.
It’s the gift of sleep that saves me from the endless laps my mind is trying to make. Surrender and slumber, even if they are accompanied by an oxygen-blowing black box, are what provide me with the sabbath I need to rest and recover. Without these hours of daily cessation, I would be certifiably unwell.
As you probably know, our Jewish cousins were instructed to create a worldview that embraced this idea of Sabbath. Yes, God commanded His people to practice Sabbath each week by sacrificing work and productivity to rest as God Himself had rested in creation. But Sabbath-keeping is more than just a weekly occurrence. Our bodies and souls require daily doses of Sabbath. For the ancient Jewish community that Christ was born into, the new day—that is tomorrow—did not occur at the stroke of midnight or with first light at dawn. No, the new day began with the setting of the sun and the arrival of the stars.
The implications for this diurnal rhythm are far-reaching. Tomorrowdoesn’t begin in the morning. Tomorrowbegins each evening. According to the culture established by the people of the Old Testament, we start our day at night and with inactivity. The first act of the new day is sleep. We begin our new day with rest, with sleep, with dreams.
I love this idea of letting God have first crack at our days. When each day comes to a close, the very first thing that we do is to allow God to work on our behalf. As much as we might wish it was so, we cannot accomplish our to-do lists in our sleep. In sleeping, we surrender to a kind of death and un-being that is an act of trust in a God who will at some point wake us up. God has arranged sleep to be a place of recovery and renewal. God gets the first fruits of the new day. Our new day begins after God has been at work for a good 7 or 8 hours before we can muck it up.
I have come to believe that my inability to draw my own breath overnight to be a faithful reminder that I am fully dependent on God to have life and to live it according to His direction. Just as I need a machine to fill my lungs with breath each evening, I require God’s breath—literally God’s Spirit—to fill me, also. It’s strange to consider that God is working for good while I do nothing but surrender my spirit, soul, mind, and body to Him. Truly, sleep is an act of trust.
In this way, the passage from Lamentations makes more sense:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” -Lamentations 3:22-23
God’s mercies are new every morning because God has been at work long before we’ve ever had the chance to punch the clock. The ebb and flow of our days all point to God’s faithfulness to us. Our work in the daytime, therefore, becomes our response to the work that God was doing while we slept.
May the Spirit of God fill the collapsing airways of our souls so that we can find rest, renewal and purpose in Him.