It's bad enough that we generally have to spend four out of every twelve months of the year sleeping, but that we could die at any moment, unannounced, truly puts the brakes on our illusion of control.
Earlier this summer, I read Tish Harrison Warren's The Liturgy of the Ordinary. Fittingly, the final chapter of the book concerned the final moments of our days, in the form of sleep. She wrote that "our bodily limits are our chief daily reminder that we are but dust...." and that "our need for sleep reminds us of our ultimate limit: we are going to die."
I don't want to die, just as I don't want to head off to bed most nights. I stay downstairs and work on the finances and talk to TJ and make no-bake bars and make a grocery list and wipe off the table and feed the cat. My work is never done, yet I always eventually concede that it's pointless to fight against what my body has to have: those seven or so hours in a state of altered consciousness so it can forget the world and repair itself and start all over the next day.
I can be doggedly driven and presumptuously productive all through my waking hours, yet I cannot sustain the pace without sleep. If I live to be ninety, I will have spent almost thirty years asleep. It feels like a lot of life to have missed out on, except that I'm banking on two things: that God's currency of time is superior to mine, and that I'll get make-up days in heaven for those years of sleep on earth.
And what if I don't last to ninety? What if my life is cut short somehow? My grandfather's life was cut short, as was my uncle's. So badly, I want them in the flesh down here with us still. I want my boys to go to a Clemson game with my granddaddy and I want to hear his stories about working for Duke Power since that's who owns the lake we live on. I want my Uncle Eldon, who loved babies so much, to get to enjoy playing with his first granddaughter who just turned one. It feels unfair for them to be gone, but I won't presume to know why God said no to more of their lives on earth. I am just trying to say yes to the lessons to be learned from those no's. I want to remember that nothing is really mine to keep and that every single day of my life is a gift.
Someone I know lost a child last year, and when I look at their family now, I can't help asking myself whether that loss causes them to hold on more tightly or less tightly to their other children. I will not be so bold to say such a tragedy wouldn't strike twice, or that it wouldn't strike us, yet I hope beyond hope it won't.
I want to watch my children grow up and watch my own face turn old. Even as I head daily toward decay, not possibly knowing what is to come, I believe that nothing is wasted and nothing is lost to existence in God's Kingdom. We will move beyond this life one day, into even Fuller Life, but for now we get a tiny taste of relinquishing control each evening at bedtime. God is like a parent telling us we can't stay up all night, so we saunter to bed late and sink into sleep. Before we know what's happened, our eyes open to a bright new world where everything is yes and there is no more presuming, no more controlling, no more sleeping, and no more dying.