Sleep Apnea and the God Who Doesn’t Slumber

I have something called sleep apnea. So each night when I go to bed, I have to use something called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. I’ve used such a machine for years. But a few years back, when the device I had was not working properly, I really noticed the difference. During the day I was almost always groggy. I would fall asleep while reading or working at the computer. And forget driving, because there was a good chance I would be far too drowsy to drive safely. No one could rely on me to be alert.

Thankfully, God is not like this. In Psalm 121:3, it says that the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep. So God does not get tired. Instead, he is always present, always alert, and always available to help us. He doesn’t nod off halfway through our prayers.

Even with my CPAP machine, I can still get tired. At the end of a busy day, I can feel drained of emotional and physical energy. This is even true of a normal day. Take yesterday. At bedtime I felt really worn out. I wondered aloud to my wife about why I would feel this way when it hadn’t been an especially crazy day. Her response? “Well, you have been awake all day.” We don’t have to have been pushing ourselves all day to be tired at bedtime. Being awake all day, apparently, is enough to reach that point.

You and I have limits. We can’t be or do anything we want in the time we have. Each of us has only so much energy, physical, emotional, relational, etc. Some of us more, some of us less. We all know what it’s like when we’ve expended our available energy. For my part, I am likely to get more irritable and impatient. My mind and body usually let me know when it’s time to get some rest, even though I am not always wise enough to listen.

It’s instructive to ponder the fact that in the Jewish tradition days are measured from evening to evening, not morning to morning. Which means that just as the day begins, people are getting ready to settle down for the night and get some rest. On the Sabbath, faithful Jews acknowledge their limits by taking an entire 24 hour period to rest, and to recognize that the world does not revolve around them. When they stop, the world keeps going. Sabbath is an act of faith that God has things well in hand. Because God does not slumber or sleep.

For me, having sleep apnea is a reminder of my limits. Such limits are not bad. Rather, they point me to the One who is without limit. Because of my need to get a decent night’s sleep, I am reminded of the importance of trusting God with my life and all of my worries and problems. While I am sleeping, there’s nothing I can do about whatever difficult or challenging circumstances are a part of my life. Since God doesn’t slumber or grow weary, I am invited to make the psalmist’s words my own when he says in Psalm 4:8: In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

COVID Fatigue and Giving Yourself Grace

In our province, we are in Phase 2 of a COVID re-opening plan. We can return to our church building this coming Sunday.

And I am very glad that we can do so.

But I am still a little tired. Sometimes more than a little.

And it’s not really a physical tiredness. It’s emotional and spiritual.

I don’t even know how to quite describe it. But I think it’s the accumulation of the last year and a half’s worth of news, COVID shutdowns and restrictions, loud voices on the far left and right decrying their political and cultural opponents, and all the pivots we’ve had to make.

Some of this weariness is my own fault. I have probably watched and listened to too much news and opinions regarding all of the cultural issues that have arisen in light of COVID. I perhaps didn’t take advantage of the upside of this last shutdown like I might have. After all, last year I read a bunch of books.

All I can say is that I don’t feel especially energized or excited about getting back to so-called normal. Who knows, maybe once it actually happens–to whatever degree it does–I will feel differently.

Maybe it’s also because we don’t really know if we’ll have to go into lockdown again or if there will be an upsurge of COVID cases in our province. It’s not really something anyone can reliably predict.

During this last shutdown my wife told me something maybe someone else out there needs to hear: give yourself grace.

Don’t be so unforgiving of yourself. You’re not perfect. No one expects you to handle these circumstances perfectly. And even if someone does expect that of you, you still won’t. You can’t. So phooey for them.

In other words, don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself a break. Take a time out. You don’t have to bear the weight of the world or solve every problem or understand every issue. You’re not the centre of the universe.

You see, we have to remember none of us has ever really been through anything like this before. This last year and a half (or so) was not something most of us would have anticipated. None of us were prepared for spending weeks restricted to our homes, unable to go about our normal lives as we knew them.

I mean, COVID also hit us during the US presidential campaign. So, yeah, that happened.

There were also protests, riots, looting, burning cities, the tearing down of statues of historical figures.

Not to mention how politicized COVID itself became, with people debating how to balance public health concerns with personal freedoms, whether or not masks were effective and necessary, and health and government officials at least appearing to give sometimes inconsistent and confusing messages about the guidelines and their efficacy.

And we all had a front row seat.

Add to this being unable to see family and friends, not being able to gather in our churches, having vacation plans curtailed, not being able to go out together as a family, having our kids doing school online from home, and is it any wonder our whole culture needs a vacation, a genuine rest, an opportunity simply to exhale, breath deep, and take a moment to reflect on who we are and what we need?

Yet some of us have had the expectation of ourselves that we should still somehow be able to do what we’ve always done as well as we’ve usually done it.

So if you’re in a place where things around you are beginning to re-open after having gone through a COVID lockdown, but you’re not as excited as you think you’re supposed to be: give yourself grace.

If you’re tired of all the news, and feel like you’re supposed to have a stronger position on some of the COVID related issues but you don’t: give yourself grace.

If you’re frustrated with neighbours, family, or friends because you don’t see eye to eye on masks, vaccinations, and what’s been been going on and they like to argue about it: give yourself grace.

Give yourself grace. (Yes, I’m talking to myself.)

And while you’re at it, give others a little grace too. After all, we’ve all been through this together.

Moreover, for those of us who are followers of Jesus, grace ought to be our calling card. As John 1:16 says, from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

And if God can extend his grace to us, surely we can learn to do the same.

Rest for Our Souls

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28–30

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

Isaiah 30:15

The minimum bar to be enfolded into the embrace of Jesus is simply: open yourself up to him. It is all he needs. Indeed, it is the only thing he works with. Verse 28 of our passage in Matthew 11 tells us explicitly who qualifies for fellowship with Jesus: “all who labor and are heavy laden.” You don’t need to unburden or collect yourself and then come to Jesus. Your very burden is what qualifies you to come. No payment is required; he says, “I will give you rest.” His rest is gift, not transaction. Whether you are actively working hard to crowbar your life into smoothness (“labor”) or passively finding yourself weighed down by something outside your control (“heavy laden”), Jesus Christ’s desire that you find rest, that you come in out of the storm, outstrips even your own.

Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020)

My wife gave me a gift this week. You see, she is a teacher who, because of the current COVID lockdown in our province, has to prepare online lessons. She goes to her school to do this. And so our twin sons and daughter have all been doing school online from home. Most weeks she takes the boys with her on a couple of days.

But one day this week, when normally both boys would go with her, one of them wasn’t feeling well. So he stayed home.

So on another day this week, she took our sons with her one morning so I could have time to myself and get some of my work done. I needed it.

And you know what? For a part of that time I sat in our living room rocking chair, did the Daily Office, prayed, read my Bible, and just sat in God’s presence. Quiet. Still. Restful.

What is rest?

If I have a very busy day or week, perhaps busier than usual, chances are I’ll need physical rest. After a hard day’s work, most of us look forward to crawling into bed. A good night’s sleep is a cure for many things.

But we need more than physical rest.

I can also find myself emotionally drained. Maybe I’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship. We all know what it’s like to have a conversation that leaves us feeling wiped. Afterwards, all we want is to rest.

And Jesus invites us to rest. More specifically, he invites us to find rest for our souls in him. And our souls are the heart of who we are. You and I are embodied souls.

While I’m sure it means much more, sometimes receiving rest for our souls means being able to rest from ourselves: our cares, worries, burdens, fears, anxieties, hopes, expectations, disappointments, and failures.

What burdens are you carrying?

What cares are you shouldering?

What’s weighing you down? What’s weighing on you?

Jesus invites you to come to him. To let him unburden you, take the weight off your shoulders, to give you rest for your soul.

But it’s an invitation. Jesus never forces or coerces.

To the church at Laodicea, (Revelation 3:20) believers who had become lukewarm in their relationship to Jesus, he says, See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

But according to the prophet Isaiah, the Israelites—God’s very own covenant people—refused this rest. Refused him.

We do too.

So often we think life, wholeness, contentment, and peace are up to us. That it’s our effort, our strength, our capabilities that will save us.

You see, Jesus gives us rest by giving us himself. His invitation is a gospel invitation. To come in and dine with us—to share table fellowship—is a sign of intimacy and relationship.

In other words, it’s Jesus’ presence that gives us rest. Him. The rest he offers is not separate from him. He is that rest.

This current COVID lockdown seems especially tiring for some reason. Perhaps it’s the cumulative effect. It’s been a long year for many of us.

Yet the rest Jesus offers—indeed, is—is available no matter what else is going on. Circumstances can’t dictate what Jesus can do—who he is, what he offers, what he provides. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Jesus is knocking on my door. He’s also knocking on yours. Rest is possible. We only have to open the door and let the author of rest in.

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence

Each morning I face the temptation to rush headlong into activity of one kind or another. Each morning it takes effort to still my thoughts rather than let them run rampant. Each morning I could easily fall prey to anxiety or expectations, instead of taking some much needed time to draw aside into God’s presence. And sometimes on days when I fail to make space for that “still, small voice,” my thoughts become scattered, my heart unfocused, my attention easily distracted. I can end up more easily irritated and impatient.

Today could have been one of those days. Not that taking time for quiet, prayer, and Scripture will inevitably guarantee not only a better day but a better me, but not taking that time certainly tilts the odds in the other direction.

The Book of Common Prayer (2019) has a section of occasional prayers. Below is one I read this morning. It includes allusions to two separate biblical passages. One is Isaiah 30:15:

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

The other is Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

It seems like a fitting prayer to share in case any of you are anything like me. Here it is:

“O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be our strength: By the might of Your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that You are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So, remember, whatever else this day holds, God is our strength, refuge, and salvation. Take a moment or two to be still and rest in him.

Living in a Tiring World

Is it just me or is life more tiring than it used to be?

Please, no comments about middle-age.

Besides, I’m not, strictly speaking, talking about physical tiredness. No, I mean emotional and mental tiredness. I mean the way in which so many around us are dealing with anxiety and depression, and at younger and younger ages. I mean the pace of life, and how we don’t really know how to rest. And I mean really rest. A deep, down rest in our souls rest. A rest from feeling like we have to be on all the time.

I think of someone who watches TV news for long stretches of time or spends hours scrolling through their Facebook feed, indiscriminately taking in angry posts, conspiracies, and drama. I think of people who very nearly can’t part from their smartphones for any length of time but are captive to notifications, likes, and comments sections.

We’re addicted to our devices and to social media, and we’re killing our capacity for empathy, compassion, self-awareness, and patience.

I also think of our nearly pathological need to keep “busy” pretty much for its own sake. Anything to occupy ourselves so that we don’t actually have to face ourselves and have our thoughts wander to more significant things: life, death, and everything in between.

French philosopher Blaise Pascal, in his Pensees, once wrote this: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” True, that.

Our hearts and minds are like hamsters on a wheel, endlessly going round and round but never going anywhere—except making ourselves more anxious and more distracted and more discontented.

There was a time when I would feel oddly guilty about not being “busier.” It’s like I felt less important. Because busyness suggests importance. But I honestly don’t care anymore. I think doing less is a virtue. That not running around to endless activities is a virtue. That not filling up my kids’ calendars is a virtue. I look at people whose lives seem overcrowded and I know that, were that me, I would go nuts.

But maybe it’s just me.

Yet it seems to me that we’re failing to learn and to pass on what it means to be ourselves, to know ourselves, and, certainly, to know what it means to rest in the presence of our Maker.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I think there is a lot of fear in people today. Much unease. And, I think, a lot of loneliness and longing. Without solid footing, many just rely on their best guesses and opinions for purpose and meaning.

All I know is that we’re more than the sum of our activities and social media posts. We’re creatures made in the image of God with dignity and value. We have a Creator, One who designed us to be human beings not human doings. One who loves us before we lift a finger or open our mouths.

And we know this because this God came here, to this world, his creation, entered into our humanity, in order to tell us and to show us.

In the Bible we have these words which tell us about Jesus, who is God incarnate:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17

Listen to that again: All things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.

There’s your reason for living. There’s the explanation for your existence. Right there. In the person of Jesus.

This same Jesus also invites us to find rest from busyness, from weariness, from all forms of self-justification, from all anxiety, by coming to him:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

I think it’s true that life is more tiring than it used to be. I think our world is tiring. I think people often feel this enormous pressure and obligation to go along and try and keep up. But Jesus, I think, invites us to something different. That’s the life I want. I’m learning to live into it. What about you?