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November 16, 2009
A few days ago I was talking to some friends about fatigue. It is a popular topic when you’re in the stage of life that includes young children (though, from what I’ve overheard, it also seems to be a popular topic as you begin to hit old age). I got to thinking about the topic and found something I had written about fatigue a couple of years ago, apparently after a particularly tough night.
I got to bed just a little bit later than usual last night. But when I settled into bed, I felt that kind of comforting fatigue—the kind that is not so overbearing that I’m exhausted, but the kind that means I’m really looking forward to a good night’s rest. You know the kind, I’m sure. It’s the kind of tired that makes stretching out between the sheets a real pleasure.
There was one false start before I got to sleep. I was just drifting off when I heard the bedroom door rattle and Abby walked in. She told us that she couldn’t sleep. Aileen got up and tucked her back in, turning on a light to make sure she wouldn’t be scared. A few minutes later we were all asleep. But then, probably around 1 AM, I heard Abby calling for me. She was scared again and was crying. I have no memory of what happened next, but I guess I must have tucked her back into bed, convinced her that everything was fine, and crawled back into bed. A couple of hours later it was Nick’s turn. He marched into our room and woke me up, telling me that his ear was hurting so badly he couldn’t sleep. All things pain-related are Aileen’s department, so she dosed him with some kind of medication, put some hot cloths on his ear, and we went back to sleep. An hour later Michaela was awake, scared by the sound of the strong winds blowing through the trees outside our window. We awoke to her cries of “Mommy!” She ended up in bed with us—all twenty five hot, pointy, squirming, fuzzy pounds of her. At this point I turned off my alarm and figured I’d just have to let myself sleep in so I wouldn’t be completely comatose all day. And so the night went. I awoke at seven in the morning (which is sleeping late for me) feeling not the nice kind of tired, but the exhausted kind of tired that comes from too little rest; too little sleep. It’s the kind of tired that leaves circles under my eyes and requires an extra kick of caffeine to be able to go about the usual routine. It just wasn’t a very good night.
A few weeks after Nick was born, our first child, Aileen and I were facing the exhaustion that comes with a newborn baby. We were just learning to be parents and still assumed that every cough and every sigh meant he was dying. He was a restless baby and didn’t settle into good sleep patterns for a long time. Aileen and I both spent many nights pacing the floors with him. I remember talking to my mother around this time and the words she said stuck with me: “The next time you feel well-rested, you’ll be in heaven.” They may not have been particularly comforting words, but they were realistic. Mom said that, by the time the kids really settled into good sleep patterns, I’d be too old to sleep well anymore. When we had that first child I guess I threw away any hope of really feeling well-rested.
It’s worth it, of course. I wouldn’t trade my children for any number of good night’s sleeps or any amount of rest (though if you asked me in the middle of the night I might occasionally answer differently). But as I lay in bed last night, in those moments where I was just too tired to get to sleep, I began to wonder about heaven. What will it be like to feel really, really well-rested? What will it be like to be able to feel one hundred percent? Will there be fatigue in heaven? Will there be rest? Heaven will, of course, be rest…but will there be sleep?
As I tend to do when I’ve got questions about heaven, I opened Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven this morning and, sure enough, he had some things to say about this. He says:
Our lives in Heaven will include rest (Hebrews 4:1-11). …
Eden is a picture of rest—work that’s meaningful and enjoyable, abundant food, a beautiful environment, unhindered friendship with God and with other people and animals. Even with Eden’s restful perfection, one day was set aside for special rest and worship, Work will be refreshing on the New Earth, yet regular rest will be built into our lives.
To be honest, I am a little skeptical when it comes to Alcorn’s reasoning here, but he does make an interesting case. But what really stood out to me were his next words:
Part of our inability to appreciate Heaven as a place of rest relate to our failure to enter into a weekly day of rest now. By rarely turning attention from our responsibilities, we fail to anticipate our coming deliverance from the Curse to a full rest.
“Make every effort to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11). It’s ironic that it takes such effort to set aside time for rest, but it does. For me, and for many of us, it’s difficult to guard our schedules, but it’s worth it. The day of rest points us to Heaven and to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Rest is innately good. God Himself rested after completing His work of creation—a perfect being resting after completing the perfect work of creating a perfect world. God built rest into this world. And God gave us one day to practice rest—to learn how to rest. How good it is to set that day aside and to use it just to rest. But beyond that day, God also gives us little glimpses of the rest that is to come. When we used to own a cottage, one of my favorite things to do was to head out alone over the lake in the canoe. And halfway across the lake I would just sit back with a Coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the sun shining on my face. And I’d just relax and let the water take me where it wanted. It was such a beautiful time of peace and rest. And maybe it was a foretaste of the rest that is to come. Today a similar feeling comes as I kick back on a Sunday afternoon with a cold Coke, a good book and a comfortable couch. It is rest and it is good.
I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that only rarely will I really feel anywhere close to one hundred percent while on this earth. To be an adult, to be a parent, is to be tired. But as life goes on, I begin to look to those moments of rest as more than just a chance to rejuvenate. I see them also as a glimpse of what is to come. I see them as opportunities to learn how to rest—to learn how to enjoy the rest that will come with the new heavens and the new earth. They are a taste, even if only a faint one, of the true rest.