Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Small essays about faith and life to lift your spirit and give you hope.
Didn’t sleep well last night, something that happens every so often. My mind was awake chewing its cud far too late, so sleep got shoved in a corner and never fully took hold. I flipped this way and that, got up and remade the bed, said hello to our little cat (who had been thrashing around above the ceiling chasing something real or imaginary), hit the bathroom at least twice and finally gave into being fully awake around 2 am, after which I occupied myself with pondering and prayer and probably stayed awake longer than I might have had I not been mesmerized by a preacher on the radio who talked about blessing others.
I woke up in the morning an hour later than usual, still sleepy but oddly refreshed, turned on my device to see if the world had come to an end while I was away and found an essay by one of my favorite writers, Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity (blog) at Ravi Zacharias International. Jill makes me think, her theology is strong and she’s a darned good word slinger. This time around, ironically, her subject was sleep, so I dove right in rather than put off reading her piece ‘til later in the day.
Some people describe a “sense of foreboding in the still of night that is irrationally paralyzing,” she wrote, citing the example of NPR personality Ira Glass, who was scared to go to sleep as a child. He equated the “fear of not being awake” to the fear of not being, because “sleep seemed no different than death … You were gone. Not moving, not talking, not thinking. Not aware. What could be more frightening?” Glass said. “What could be bigger?”
I don’t get that. Sleep has always been a solace for me. There’s great relief, almost joy, in letting go of the day and drifting off to dreamland. Guess that’s why I like naps so much, a habit modeled by my mother, who took a 20-minute snooze every day at 2 o’clock, and woe be it to any of us brothers foolish enough to wake her. Had the house been on fire, we might have tried to put the thing out ourselves rather than take a chance on interrupting her nap. Whether nap or night, I find sleep welcoming, just as Mom may have in seeking brief relief from four active boys. Most times, I can put down my reading, fluff up the pillow and fall asleep in a few minutes. Without worry. In fact, sleep and I have had so good a relationship that it’s never occurred to me that some people fear sleep like they fear death. As Jill Carattini points out in her essay, we as a culture are “generally uncomfortable with death and desperate for our accomplishments to distract us.” I know people like that, who must keep energized and entertained lest the chill side of their minds whisper quietly about what may happen after they die. But others appear to brush off the specter of death and sleep very well. “You die, then it’s oblivion,” one friend told me with a shrug. The possibility of a heavenly afterlife with the Lord of Light was simply dismissed.
When we were small, Mom instructed us to get on our knees before tucking us into bed. We prayed for each other, our parents and our pets and recited the little 18th century ditty, “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.” I found the notion that God might sneak into our room and snatch one of us up during the night a bit discomfiting – but no more than thinking about what might have been lurking under the bed.
Shakespeare conflates sleep and death as Hamlet considers suicide in the wake of family treachery: “To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream--ay, there’s the rub,” he declares. But even dreaming seems no more promising to the prince than the “heartache and thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to.” The Bard himself, by the way, appears to have had more confidence in a beneficent Christian afterlife than his sweet Prince, as revealed in the playwright’s Last Will and Testament: “I commend my soul into the hands of God, my Creator, hoping and assuredly believing, that through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting, and my body to the earth whereof it is made.”
As Ms. Carattini writes, “(T)o admit there is no escaping the enemy of death is not to say we are left without an ally,” citing the claim in John 11: 25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, shall live.”
“The one who made this claim,” the essayist concludes, “made it knowing that death would come to all of us, but (did so) longing to show the world that it is an enemy he would defeat. Perhaps sleep, then, providing a striking image of finite bodies that will lie down and cease to be, can simultaneously provide us a rousing image of bodies that will rise again.”
Now there’s the rub!
Read Jill’s essay here: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxvzKknhLPsNBRlzGCgcQjKcnGSK0
I was on a sales call. My prospect sold expensive late model cars. A luxury tax had been levied on high-priced automobiles and interest rates were sky high, throwing the economy into a tailspin. Business was bad, but this was nothing new. The dealership had been through enough downturns to know that for every valley there eventually is a corresponding high. However, they had several good salespeople on staff, and since customers were few and far between, they had to decide whether to let them go or keep the team together until the turnaround they knew was coming.
“You know, you just don’t throw people away,” the wife business owner said to the husband business owner, the thought lingering in the air between them. They looked at each other and smiled. The decision had been made -- and was not lost on me. I had a decision to make, too, and in a flash of inspired decisiveness, my mind got made up.
It is said that God speaks to us in many ways, sometimes through others, sometimes directly. He has told me “No!” from time to time when the answer I had been seeking was “Yes”. No matter how the message was delivered, it was clear Who had sent it and what path I must take.
Which reminds me of the time, richly detailed in the first chapter of Luke, when the angel Gabriel showed up in the temple with a message for Zacharias. As the old priest approached the altar to burn incense, what surely must have seemed like an apparition appeared to him and began speaking. The passage reports that Zacharias “was troubled, and fear fell upon him,” which seems perfectly understandable.
“Fear not, Zacharias,” Gabriel said (no doubt in the lilting words of the King James), “for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord … and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”
I picture Zacharias standing with mouth agape, Bic lighter dropped to the floor, religious task forgotten. But that was not all. God had a lot more to say to his servant Zacharias through the angel. Among other qualities, their son would become great in the sight of the Lord, would turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God and prepare them for the advent of Christ. All told, less than a minute’s worth of angel talk appears in the text - plenty of time to turn Zacharias’ knees to jelly.
“Whereby shall I know this?” the priest asked, “For I am an old man, and my wife is well stricken in years.”
I imagine his voice either quavering or maybe dripping with sarcasm, in either case a response born of one who clearly had been grappling with the realities of old age for some time. No matter, Gabriel did not receive Zacharias’ incredulity lightly.
“I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold,” continued the angelic messenger, about to lower the boom on the old man, “you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in time.”
Zacharias was struck dumb and unable to say anything to the people waiting outside as he left the temple. One can only imagine the thoughts coursing through his mind as he headed home to write a note to his wife and let her know what had happened. In time, Elizabeth did deliver a son, whom his father did, indeed, call John (by tracing his name on a tablet). With that grace note, Zacharia’s voice was restored. The child was to become John the Baptist.
I think of these events and wonder what might have transpired had I not taken God’s cue after hearing my husband and wife sales prospects refuse to let good people go during a time that did not bode well for their business. My life probably would have been quite different today had I listened to myself instead of trusting the Lord. Who knows, I may even have lost my voice!
Perhaps the Lord has a message for you as you ponder some weighty decision. It may come directly or through another person – maybe even an angel. If so, I suggest you take heed, even if God's plan for you isn't what you had in mind and, on top of that, seems completely impossible. Especially if you’re like me and “stricken in years.”
Because the truth is that when God speaks, you should listen!