I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once
The scenes of conflict, drama, and intrigue hijack our attention and draw us like moths to a lamp We had intended to check email and news quickly before bed. An hour later, we find ourselves scrolling through articles, social media posts, or video streams. Ugh. Tearing ourselves away, we end up lying with minds droning on in the darkness, restlessly tossing and waiting for sleep.
How different is this common American nighttime routine from that recommended to us by Christians from centuries past. Instead of projecting ourselves out into the world and its concerns, as evening falls, they encourage us to draw close to the primary relationships of life and to reflect on where the grace of Christ is at work in and around us. The antiphon that is part of the Church’s night prayer at the close of the day offers us this instructive prayer: “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep rest in his peace.”
How we prepare for sleep is so important and, yet, so very difficult for many today. Recent studies have indicated that the majority of Americans struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Many of them end up relying on medications, alcohol, or other substances to try to calm themselves. But these are superficial remedies that cannot address the underlying distemper and can actually keep us from finding the true healing we need. Merely closing our eyes in artificially induced sleep is not nourishing sleep. If we do not feel safe and secure in the protection of our Heavenly Father, our eyes may close, but our souls will not find the rest and healing they need. St. Augustine remarked that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. Only closeness to God can bring the healing and nourishment that a restless heart needs to sleep in peace.
There is a reason why so many of our parents taught us prayers to say before sleep. Our fathers and mothers in the faith knew that night is a privileged time of spiritual activity and renewal. Our inhibitions naturally tend to draw down, the cares of this world recede, and our hearts are able to open and to listen to the movement of the Holy Spirit. How many of the prophets and great saints and normal everyday Christians have heard the voice of God in these twilight hours? How many have realized great truths, conquered dreaded fears, and made heroic decisions while speaking with the Lord in the darkness?
Night is a friend to the Christian because we know who reaches out to uphold us as the shadows fall: the Light of Life that never fades. Yet, as we step back from the cares of this world, we must learn how to let Him step in to sustain and protect us. And how important it is to teach this act of entrustment to our children. In our habitually overstimulated society, such an undertaking requires concerted effort. We must strategize, like generals preparing for battle, rituals and routines that allow us to purposefully place ourselves in the care of our Good Shepherd as night descends -- to turn off the devices and screens as we remove our shoes, aware as we approach our beds that we are standing on holy ground; to, in the final moments of the day, acknowledge through small and simple actions our identity as sons and daughters of the Risen Christ, and open our hearts to rest in Him. May the prayer of the Psalmist be true for all of us, His children: “On my bed I remember you. On you I muse through the night. For you have been my help; in the shadow of your wings I rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast” Psalm 63.
By: Father Seamus Griesbach, director of the Office of Vocations