Consistent, restorative sleep has eluded me for over 20 years. Therefore, an image so often talked about in the New Testament – falling asleep in Christ – has come as an unexpected comfort.
“Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace.”
“That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessed and blessing of all-natural graces, sleep.”
“I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandma.
Not yelling and screaming, like the people in her car.”
I love to sleep but for the last 20 years consistent, sound sleep has remained tantalizingly out of reach. So desperate for sleep at times I have found myself looking on with envy at homeless folks asleep on benches. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I immediately discussed sleep with my oncologist. I assumed that cancer worries along with cancer treatment would be the end of sleep for good.
Sleeplessness in any degree is one of humanity’s great annoyances. Internet searches (not good sleep hygiene to do at night) are endless in describing and suggesting ways to recover our bodies’ routine and therapeutic need for the sandman’s nightly visits. Why he refuses to come and satisfy some of us is anybody’s guess. But for sure we cannot do well emotionally or physically without sleep. Twenty years of insomnia has left me wanting to strangle the sandman. Going for stretches without sustaining sleep has at times been as emotionally painful as my struggle with metastatic cancer.
Worrying about endings
A few people with metastatic cancer might not entertain thoughts about how dying might go for them. I am not one of them. Like the confession of the late Billy Graham, I too am not afraid to die as I have confidence in Christ receiving me, but I do worry sometimes about how I may die. I am like most people who would vote to die unsuspectingly at an incredibly old age at the end of a productive, meaningful life while SLEEPING!
To Fall Asleep in Christ
I recently landed on a book, Dying Well, by John Wyatt. The author, a British medical consultant and devout Christian, has witnessed many people in the last stage of their lives and offers insightful, encouraging, and very practical suggestions for believers facing death from illness or old age. This book is for anybody who is eventually going to die. Yes, we all should push the pause button of our busy lives to think how we would like our endings to go before the end is close.
Wyatt’s chapter describing what it means to “fall to sleep in Christ” was particularly comforting. To “fall asleep in Christ” is the term used in the epistles for the believers’ death. Jesus in the gospels and the apostle Paul in his letters describe the death of a believer as residing in a state of sleep awaiting their new eternal life. The early Christians understood something about this image of death. It is one of the reasons they had the courage and hope to withstand all manners of persecution and death. At death, the believer is, as in sleep, unconscious and unresponsive but none the less a person fully alive, being held safely by the love and power of Christ.
I have known the biblical expression for believers’ death for decades but never has the term meant so much to me as it does now; nor has it provided such hope and reassurance as it does now. Falling asleep in Christ to be woken up to the most glorious reality of all is my great hope and desire. I love sleep, I long for it and when I awake having had a good night of sleeping, I am exhilarated. So now as the pesky death and dying thoughts resurface so does the gentleness of the sleep metaphor. Is this pie in the sky thinking to make the reality of dying easier to swallow? No and yes! No, it is not the pie in the sky. The truths of scripture and God’s love for me did not originate with me and will not end with me. And yes, life after death has been the great Christian hope for people from all over the world for centuries. As Paul said, “if only in this life we have hope in Christ we of all people are to be most pitied.” (I Cor 15:19) According to John Wyatt, we can deduct from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 that “Jesus experienced the full reality of death so that we might fall asleep,” never having to know abandonment from God’s loving presence. Hallelujah! My imagination has taken a turn from the dreaded to the blessed! Falling asleep in Christ means resting in peace to be woken up by the lover of our souls at the culmination of history.
“Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.”
Chronicles of Narnia , C.S. Lewis
DEATH VERSES TO FALL ASLEEP BY:
I THESSALONIANS 4:13-14
REVELATION 22: 3-4