Sanctified Sleep

Have you ever had the experience of falling asleep when you meant to be praying?  Perhaps you are saying your rosary and you nod off.  Or maybe you doze while seated before the Blessed Sacrament.  Alas!  Such has often been the case with yours truly.  At first I used to feel guilty about my naps.  I’d imagine Jesus reprimanding me, just as He did Peter in the garden (Matthew 26:40):  “Could you not, then, watch one hour with me?”

Then one day, upon awaking from one of my slumbers before the Sacrament, I found myself saying:  “Well, Lord, I hope you made good use of the time I was asleep.  I hope you performed the heart surgery I needed that would have been too painful for me had I been awake.”  Had I uttered an irreverence—or even blasphemy?

Perhaps not.  I once heard author and speaker Ralph Martin declare:  “Parents love their children even when, and perhaps especially when, asleep.  Why wouldn’t God look lovingly on us when we sleep?”  Then there is Psalm 127:2:  “In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat: when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.”

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered my own utterance echoed in the writings of a theological giant!  In his book Prayer for Beginners, Peter Kreeft declares:

In some ways the Spirit can move us even more effectively in sleep than in waking, as surgery can be more effective when the patient is anesthetized.  When we are awake, we keep hopping about on God’s operating table, telling him how to doctor us.  Only death quiets us enough for the radical heart surgery we need.  Sleep is an image of that.

Since the Spirit blows also in our sea of sleep, we must prepare to catch this gale by evening prayers.  Since sleep is like death, we should prepare for sleep as we prepare for death, by giving God eager permission to enter the sleeping sea-depths of our souls.  In sleep, as in death, it becomes clear that “everything is grace.”

Bolstered by so great a theologian, I have gotten into the habit of telling people to imagine that their pillow is a spiritual consent form.  “Before going to sleep,” I say, “trace your signature on your pillow with your finger.  Tell God that He has your permission to perform the heart surgery you require, surgery you would find unendurable while awake.  If you are married, you can ‘sign’ the consent form for your spouse, but do it surreptitiously, and only after you do it for yourself.”

So before going to sleep tonight, don’t forget to “sign your pillow.”  Who knows what good God will accomplish while you slumber?  Pleasant dreams!