Every night as a child I said the same bedtime prayer. You know the ditty:
Now I lay me down to sleep; I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
And then came the barrage of “God blesses.”
When I began to have a more mature prayer life, I grew embarrassed of this prayer. I was ashamed that I had prayed this same rote prayer for my entire childhood when there were so many other things I could have been praying. So I moved on to richer theology in my prayers.
But the other night that prayer came to me and I realized a profound truth that it taught me–our complete dependence on God. This whole sleep-thing that every living being has to contend with is such a natural revelation of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence, and our utter weakness.
I fight sleep. I want to stay up late and wake up early. I want to squeeze in every minute I can out of my day. I get mad at sleep! Why do we have to give in to this nightly activity? There are many theories, but scientists do not have proof for the main function of sleep. Some of the hypotheses include restoration and repair for the body, emotional unloading, and even downsizing our brains. But one thing is certain, sleep is a much more active process than we realize. While we are unconscious, our brain activity increases in certain functions, our endocrine system is busy releasing hormones, our metabolic rate is still going strong, albeit a bit lower than wakefulness, and our organs are still busy doing their thing. And yet we know that there is an important element of rest that calls us to the pillow in the first place.
There is some major theology going on in that simple bedtime prayer I said over and over again as a child. I have to go to sleep, and I am completely vulnerable when I do so. I’ve never really prayed this prayer with my children for my reasons stated above, and because I thought it might be a little morbid for a youngster. Apparently, this version of the prayer made its debut in the New England Primer. They didn’t seem to slap velvet on anything in the 17th century. The last thing I want to bring up to my frightened kid at night is death. But I think I found it quite comforting as a child. Knowing that God was powerful and loving even while I was asleep and being able to ask for his special care was assuring. And if the worst did happen, if he allowed me to lose my life in my sleep, I was comforted to know that I would be with my Lord.
Whether you want more sleep or not, everyone has to sleep. In fact, we spend about a third of our lives on this unconscious activity. We have to submit. We are not God.
*This is how I thought the prayer started for the longest time! Clueless. And self-centered.