How to Sleep When Youre Afraid

by Seth McDevitt April 11, 2019

It is happening again. Lit by the soft chartreuse glow of a baby monitor, my mind will not allow me to close my eyes. I am scared. I know that if I close them, I might not open them again. 

I try to comfort myself with the fact that my family will be alright. I have life insurance, enough so that they will be okay. If she is smart with the money, and she would be, she would not have to work. She could stay at home with the kids. Still, no sleep. Maybe theology will help. I do trust God. I trust the Lord of Heaven to do what is right. I am a good enough Calvinist to know that He is under no obligation to wake me. I am aware that were I to die, it would be just and right and ultimately for the good of my family and God's glory, but I still cannot draw the curtain on the day. 

There is a very Christian way to expect death and, even in one sense, to long for it. Richard Sibbes once preached, "Why should we then fear death, that is but a passage to Christ? It is but a grim sergeant that lets us into a glorious palace, that strikes off our bolts, that takes off our rags, that we may be clothed with better robes, that ends all our misery, and is the beginning of all our happiness.''

Amen, Richard, but as good as your sermon is, and it may be the best sermon I have ever read, you failed to adequately address the one thing that truly scares me: the weirdness. The weirdness of closing my eyes in one world and opening them in another. The fact that it is a more glorious world and that I will be in the presence of Christ does not dampen the weirdness of that transformation.

Isn't it right for me to want to wake up again tomorrow? I long for a better city, and God will provide that city in His time, but I also love this city. The boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places. This city is where she is. It's where we make love and it's where I enjoy pasta shells filled with ricotta. This city is where I wrestle my boys and dance with my daughter. 

Most nights I fall blissfully into sleep lulled only by the din of Parks and Rec, but every few weeks I pray and it hits me: this might be the last time I get to hear her breathe, the last time I get to gently kiss her forehead and say, "I love you."

Is this what Paul was talking about in Hebrews? "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Heb 2:14–15)

Is it possible that Jesus' sin-killing death and resurrection remove the fear of death, but leave the weirdness? Unlikely. But it remains strange to me. I only know this life. I only know what it is like to have this body, and these temptations, and live in this reality. I know heaven is better and more glorious, but I am not prepared for how different, how other it will be. At least, not yet. 

Maybe I love the shadow a little too much. C.S. Lewis is always there to remind me: "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.'' 

I do not desire death as Paul did. At least not like he did in his letter to the Philippians. The axiom he teaches, that God teaches, that it is "far better," I believe, but my body hasn't caught up to my mind and heart. Good theology, life insurance, money in the bank do not weigh enough to bring down my eyelids.

But those are the moments when God makes the curtains of this temple heavy with glory. He reminds me that in the other world, in the better city, the knowledge that made me alive in Christ will not be at war with the deeds and death of this body. One day my eyelids will do what they were made to do. "In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety." (Ps. 4:8) 

Until that day, that wonderful, strange day, every couple of weeks, I will fight off sleep. I will fight to stay, to watch them grow. I will do my best to withstand the drowsy onslaught, to hear her breathe over the hum of fans, to enjoy it all one last time. Then, when the weight of God's glory overcomes my resistance, and my body can no longer deny the truth that it is far better, I will say with Sibbes, "Death is ours and for our good. It doth us more good than all the friends we have in the world. It determines and ends all our misery and sin; and it is the suburbs of heaven.'' I will close my eyes and will wake to the blessing of this city or the eternal glory of another.