He Gives To His Beloved Sleep

by Haylee Williams June 26, 2023

It was two o’clock in the morning and my newborn was asleep in the bassinet next to me. Most of the time, a newborn sleeping is cause for celebration and slumber but on this particular night, fears about my son’s life plagued my mind. You see, a few days prior, my sweet baby was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. He had stopped breathing and passed out, seemingly inexplicably. It turns out that he had a breath holding spell. Basically, he was startled by something and his body’s fight or flight response kicked in and he held his breath. By God’s grace, he is okay and there are no long term issues because of this temporary loss of oxygen, but the picture of my three-week-old, sheet-white, in the back of an ambulance is forever burned in my brain. So at two o’clock, I could feel the trauma from the experience that was wreaking havoc on my mental and physical health. On this particular night, I was up, yet again, worried about what would happen if I went to sleep.

In God’s divine providence, I stumbled across Psalm 127. The Psalm is short so reading it just a few times was enough to commit it to memory. The first two verses are what I needed in that panicked moment and what I’ve needed in every moment of late-night anxiety since. The Psalmist says:

“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.

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (ESV)

These two verses provide us with practical hope for trusting in God. Just as the Lord is the one who builds the house and watches over the city, the Lord is the one who sustains the life of my child and yours. I remember wrestling with this reality when I brought my first baby home. I wondered “If I go to sleep, who will make sure my daughter is still breathing?” I only had two options: never sleep again, or trust the Lord to give or take her breath. In other words, trust God or pine in futility for control I don’t have. My trust in him was not rooted in whether or not he would keep her breathing, but whether I believed he was good no matter what happened while I slept.

The difference I found with my son was that although I thought I had already relinquished my need for control, when my tiny baby actually had no breath in his lungs, the reality of my inability to sustain his life hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized with tears in my eyes the truth of verse one:

Unless the Lord keeps my child alive, I labor in vain. Unless the Lord heals the illness, changes your circumstances, provides for your finances… then you labor in vain.

At first, this reality is scary. If I could control everything, then nothing would go wrong, right? It is easy to think we know better than God, but if we contemplate for a moment our own finitude, I am sure our response will be different. The control we desire is not what we really want. We don’t want the oceans to bow at our command, we don’t want to have to make the world spin. We don’t even want to solve the problem in front of us because God’s reason for that problem is truly better than the solution we would provide. [1] Even if we think we want that power in the moment, if we believe in God’s perfection, we would never trade our faulty abilities for his holy ones. Truthfully, I have the small task of  making our house run smoothly and somehow I am still overwhelmed. Imagine all that would go wrong if I were in charge of everything else! God is God for a reason. He builds the house, he watches over the city. Because God does these things, the result is what we so desperately need:

“For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

So as I looked at my sweet baby and wondered about his health, obsessively Googling his breathing patterns, and working myself into an all out panic, I was reminded of Psalm 127, he gives to his beloved sleep. Rest is contingent upon trust in the Lord. I am that beloved, I am the one who eats the bread of anxious toil. But I don’t have to. We have been given the precious gift of rest as we trust in an abundantly worthy God. If you are desperate for sleep, if anxiety has kept you up, if you are eating that anxious bread day and night, come to the Lord. He is worthy of our trust. He is the Author and Sustainer and the very best news is that he cares about you. He keeps the world spinning and he gives you rest. Lean on him, for he gives to his beloved sleep.

[1] Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 139:6, Jeremiah 10:12

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