When you think about it, the whole concept of sleep is kind of weird. If I were God, I would never have come up with that one. All of our communication with God and each other, all the salvation drama of each person’s life, plays out only in his conscious hours. So what’s the point of sleep? From the divine perspective, why bother adding that feature to the human person? Yeah, there’s the evolutionary argument that sleep kept our cave man ancestors from injuring themselves by wandering around at night, and that may have been part of God’s thinking, but God didn’t have to create night. He could have set up our planet and the solar system in some way that there weren’t periods of darkness and therefore we didn’t need cycles of rest.
In other words, God could have created a world without the “day, ” where constant consciousness would render the concept meaningless. Why didn’t he?
I think a whole series of posts could be written exploring this one word, pondering the question of why God gives us day and night, wakefulness and sleep. But the answer that seems most clear to me is simply this: It keeps us intimately close to the concept of death and resurrection.
Give us this day…
Day refers to a finite period of time, one cycle of wakefulness. At the end of this period I have to stop what I’m doing and let myself fall into unconsciousness. It marks the end of my ability to control the world around me, the death of whatever plans I was in the middle of enacting. And I have no choice: It doesn’t matter if I want to sleep or not, if I am certain that it would be best if I went ahead and stayed awake for the next couple of weeks. When the time comes, I must sleep. The day has ended.
Sometimes it’s frustrating: The need for sleep often keeps us from accomplishing as much as we’d like to accomplish. It’s a constant reminder of our human limits. Like the mini-death that it is, it can be an annoying interruption to our plans. And yet this mini-death is the only way for us to experience, at a visceral level, the power of a mini-resurrection.
The end of the day is the only time we ever really hit the “reset” button in life. There are other, artificial milestones like the end of a month or the beginning of a new year, but that important sense of one block of time ending and another beginning is never more powerful than when we wake from unconsciousness and begin a new day. We open our eyes to a resurrection, a new chance, a fresh start. What better way to set the stage for us to understand the work that God’s Son came here to do?
In a 1908 book called The Secret of a Happy Life, Fr. Francis Xavier Lasance wrote:
One secret of a sweet and happy Christian life is learning to live by the day…Life does not come to us all at one time; it comes only a day at a time. Even tomorrow is never ours until it becomes today, and we have nothing whatever to do with it but to pass down to it a fair and good inheritance in today’s work well done, and today’s life well lived.
It is a blessed secret this, of living by the day. Any one can carry his burden, however heavy, till nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however heavy, till nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, until the sun goes down. And this is all life ever means to us — just one little day. “Do today’s duty; fight today’s temptations, and do not weaken or distract yourself by looking forward to things you cannot see and could not understand if you saw them.” God gives us nights to shut down upon our little days. We cannot see beyond. Short horizons make life easier and give us one of the blessed secrets of brave, true, holy living.
There is so much wisdom contained in those few sentences; it’s one of my favorite quotes of all time. And I think it’s the perfect explanation for why God gave us the day.
Thanks to Starry Sky Ranch for the Fr. Lasance excerpt
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