Pastoral Perspectives

It Takes More Than Just Pillows And Catnaps

According to various sleep surveys, Singaporeans are among the world’s most sleep-deprived people. In an online poll conducted between June to July of 2018 across 12 countries, Singapore took the second spot after Britain. And in a 2014 survey of 43 cities, the Republic came in third after Tokyo and Seoul (Straits Times 18 Dec, 2018).

I wonder how those of us from True Way or for that matter, Christians in Singapore would have fared in this survey. After all, the Bible says it is God who “gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2) and it should be of pastoral concern if the Christian community ranked significantly amongst those who are sleep-deprived. Apart from how a lack of proper sleep can lead to a host of health issues, it could also be symptomatic of deeper issues.

As Christians, it is always wise to take time out and come before God in prayerful reflection. As we examine our hearts and life and seek to identify what are some possible causes for our sleep deprivation, we can ask God to grant us wisdom and strength in handling those causes.

For example, anxiety could be one likely cause. And when it comes to anxiety, there is a fine line between what is a natural emotional response to a real or perceived potentail threat and a sinful insistence that everything must go according to our plans and desires. For the latter, anxiety may stem from our lack of trust in God.

On other occasions, all we need is a friend to talk to or to seek counsel and receive support from. This is because anxiety could also be a consequence of sinful behaviour such as when someone gambles away all their money and are losing sleep over how they will pay their bills. Depending on what the issue is, asking the person to sleep over it would hardly resolve the matter.

However, for others, anxiety may manifest as a physiological malfunction that has become both disordered and debilitating. Besides having trouble sleeping, they also experience symptoms such as persistent anxious thoughts on most days of the week for six months and the anxiety interferes with daily functioning. In such cases, such anxiety would not be considered sinful. Instead, this individual would benefit from seeking professional help from a trained counsellor or psychologist to ascertain what are possible triggers.

While many of us could probably do with more sleep, some would still wake up feeling tired even after sleeping for more than seven hours a day. This is because apart from physical rest, experts tell us that people also need psychological rest. However, the latter can be rather elusive. This is especially so when one neglects setting aside time to do so or is unable to rest due to various circumstances. 

Interestingly, it does appear that sleep is an involuntary activity. Although we can be in a posture to allow sleep to happen, we cannot simply cause or will sleep to happen. If anything, there are enough evidence to suggest that sleep tends to eludes those whose minds are preoccupied with trying to fall sleep.

As much as some may find certain preachers to be sleep-inducing, I doubt this is the kind of sleep that the Psalmist was thinking about! Neither would such cat-naps be God’s intention for his people who gather on the Lord’s Day. Likewise, we know that sleeping pills are not exactly a panacea. They come with side effects, especially when one relies on them for a prolonged period of time.

In Psalm 127, we learn that sleep is indeed God’s gracious gift to his beloved people. They are able to sleep not because their diligence at work, disciplined lifestyle or dogged determination to succeed give them cause to sleep soundly. Rather, one can find sleep because they are learning to put their trust in God. In so doing, they experience both physical and psychological rest.

Unlike those who choose to depend on their own strength and abilities, God’s people are called to be those who are learning to surrender all of life’s responsibilities and the good works they desire to accomplish by faith unto God. Since God is wiser and stronger than we are, God’s people can trust that He will not overlook any details that need to be addressed. Neither will God fail to bring about that which he has graciously desired to bless his people with. 

As one Christian writer puts it, God’s people are trusting in God’s promises that if one builds in the strength God supplies, God will build the house one is building. Likewise God will watch over the city that one is responsible for protecting (Psalm 127:1). More importantly, our Lord who makes the heaven and earth watches over his people and He is one who neither slumbers nor sleep (Psalm 121:4).

As God’s people, we can take heart that while doctors recommend seven to nine hours of sleep, there is no scriptural prescription for the number of hours we should spend in bed. More than just keeping to a healthy sleep routine (eg. avoid using smartphones before bedtime, etc) and other habits that will help our sleeping, what is even more important is that restfulness should characterise God’s people.

Indeed, those who learn to rest in Christ would normally not find sleep elusive. There may be times when a restful believer would be called upon to sacrifice sleep when necessary in the service of God and others. But since we know that it is our Lord who is ultimately building the house and watching over the city, let us thank God we do not need to lose sleep as if everything depends on us alone.

Rev Edwin Wong

December 19, 2021