Bedtime duty. Currently a multi-hour endeavor. Kisses, chattering, hugs disguised as full body tackles. (30 minutes). Currently, two out of four fall asleep easily and quickly. One child is willing to sleep only under precisely managed and negotiated conditions—dark room, one drink of water, one parent, preferably of the mommy kind. (30-60 minutes). One child has been recently initiated into existential anxiety via the fear of nuclear annihilation. Physiology and psychology, deep breathing and essential oils, I use all my hard earned knowledge and summon all my Mother Presence, then I release my child into the lonesome valley. Repeat process as necessary. (15 minutes-3 hours. Varies by night).
My husband falls asleep as soon as I turn the light out. Then it’s my turn. The moment between falling asleep and being asleep, every night, is a brief fling with terror.
Things to-be-done and left-undone grow into threatening, gigantic marshmallow-ic proportions. Tomorrow’s worries, my own and that of all the heartache and fear I carry for others, loom and frighten. Almost every night, I am shot through with a streak of wild terror that I can’t remember the last time I talked to my mom, that I can’t remember what she looks like. I crack open my eyes but can’t orient myself in my bedroom.
And then, I'm sleeping. Fear of letting go becomes the gateway to rest.
By day, we masquerade as Atlases holding up the world. But by night, the illusion falls away. We fall asleep and for a few hours, we're good for nothing, useless and worthless.
We aren’t often forced to confront the illusions of our work-a-day identity until old age or chronic illness comes upon us. Then, crisis of identity. What are we without work, without productivity, without participation, without trying hard?
Every day, the coming of night gently reminds us of our true identity in God as Beloved. Beloved beyond what we do, Beloved beyond what we have to offer the world.
The cycle of work and rest that we mark from Sabbath to Sabbath is echoed in every day and night. Work and rest, work and rest. Do and be, do and be. Rhythmic reminders that we are valued not only for what we do (day/work) but for who we are (night/sleep). Beloved.
On Fridays, our family doesn’t gear down for the weekend, we gear up. (The popular usage of “TGIF!” accompanied by a sigh of relief and the promise of weekend waffles is not a useful sentiment in a pastor’s house). I run the Sabbath morning gauntlet like a runner to the race. Four kids up and out the door (clean-and-shod, preferably, house-not-a-shambles, ever hopefully) and a morning full of activity before arriving in our pew.
Tish's words about the worship hour struck me straight in the heart.
When I first began to attend a church that worshiped with historic liturgy, I cried every week. I hadn’t realized it, but for most of my life my worship experience had been marked by my own striving to get to a particular emotional or cognitive place—a place of joy or crisis or emotion or ardent doctrinal affirmation….
But as we stumbled into a small, stone-walled Anglican church one Sunday, I felt too tired and weak to work myself up—my heart or my head—to any emotional climax or intellectual achievement. So I sat in church and followed the script and said my lines.
Worship starts and I sit in the pew and put on what I think of as my 'resting church face'.
I’ve worried for years that I will be criticized for sitting, immobile, when I should be standing. For being silent and stone-faced when I am supposed to be singing. I started this ritual when I had babies and toddlers out of sheer exhaustion and there was no extra wherewithal for smiling, or singing, or standing. It was enough to have arrived.
I’ve always thought that we have the premise of the invocational prayer backwards. We do not need to say to an omnipresent Spirit, “Please be here.” We are the ones who are capable of being present in body but not in spirit.
I cried each week in the worship service. I was learning to rest in a new habit of worship, a way of approaching God that was less reliant on my own energy, effort, or emotional state.
Nowadays my arms are not full of babies, but I've held onto my ritual. I sit with my resting church face and recover from the onslaught of the morning. I allow myself as much time as I need to let go of the compulsion to wrangle a spiritual experience (worship as work) and open myself to the work of God (worship as rest).
And what happens while we rest in sleep or rest in worship? Who cares for the things-that-have-been-undone and the things-that-must-be-done and the things-that-should-be-done?
Rest becomes a spiritual exercise of trust that God is at work. A cyclical release of our identity as mover and shaker and do-er and Person on Whom Others Depend. A repeated realization that God's work does not depend solely on our work. It is safe to surrender our work into the care of a God who doesn't slumber or sleep.
Included in this chapter are the words of the Compline, the prayer to be spoken at bedtime. My favorite memorized prayer, it is as appropriate for the hour of worship in which the Body of Christ rests together, as it is for the hour of sleep.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
Work in God, rest in God. Day and Night. Beloved.