Psalm 127: Blessed in Sleep

decisionsIt had been a wonderful nap, something I don’t do that much anymore. There was a time that a nap was a regular part of my day, back when my children were small. Then I seized every opportunity to nap, sneaking naps while they were in school in preparation for evening meetings that were a regular part of parish ministry.

I’m not sure when I stopped taking naps, maybe after my kids were on their own and out of the house, maybe when I became a chaplain at a retirement community and had more “normal” hours. Whenever it happened, I now rarely take naps, instead I fall asleep while watching TV, sometimes as early as 8:30p.m. That doesn’t mean I’m not tired during the day. I just keep going.

I woke from my nap and decided to further treat myself by catching up on my reading rather than launching into work. I picked up the Easter edition of Liguorian magazine and read, “Aren’t You Tired,” by Anh Luu, where she quoted from Psalm 127, the psalm for this week:  “God gives sleep to his beloved.” That nap was meant to be!

Restored by my nap, I had a productive afternoon.

Psalm 127 is a wisdom psalm, teaching principles and practices that produce happiness in life. The message is a simple one:  without God, all of our work is in vain. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”(1)

The writer goes on to address the foolishness of going without sleep, “It is in vain that you rise up early to go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in sleep.” (2)

What is this bread of anxious toil? We feed on our anxiety, thereby making it worse, when maybe what we need is to take a nap. We rush around trying to “do” everything we think needs to be done rather than asking God what needs to be done. This anxious toil wakes us up during the night, depriving us of necessary sleep. It is all rooted in foolishness, the belief that we control our lives, when in reality, if God isn’t in our efforts, we are wasting our time. No amount of work on our part will make any difference. We do the best we can, then leave the rest to God.

The last part of verse 2 has been translated as God gives sleep, or God gives in sleep. A small and yet significant difference. In one, sleep is a gift of God. Anyone who has experienced a sleepless night knows the truth of this. Sleep, a good night’s rest, is truly a great gift from our God. In the other, God gives to us while we sleep. At times I’ve gone to sleep with a problem weighing on my mind, only to awaken with new insights on how to deal with that problem. Sleep is not only a gift in and of itself, in sleep we are blessed with further gifts from God.

The second part of the psalm deals with family life, the blessing of children. “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (3) They ensure the survival of the family line and provide protection in old age. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (4-5) His enemies will be hesitant to attack when confronted by an army of strong sons.

In today’s world we may not have the same need for strong sons to defend us in battles, however we still need to rely on God. God is the surest defense. Faith in God, fear of the Lord, is the path to wisdom and happiness.

What is keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep? Are you eating the bread of anxious toil? Why not treat yourself to a nap today?!

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