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Sleeping through church

April 28, 2020

I fell asleep during church on Sunday.


Don’t judge me. At least I wasn’t preaching at the time.


My wife and I have started rotating between several online church services. We watched last Sunday from my back porch, looking out on a beautiful day that the Lord had made. I made it through the music, the liturgy, even the sermon. As the pastoral prayer began, I laid my head back on our comfy outdoor loveseat and nodded off. The next thing you know, I felt an elbow in my side.




Why yes. Yes, I was. But I awoke in time for the “Amen.” So I’ve got that going for me.


I have decided that, if I am going to have grace for others, then I must reserve some grace for myself, as well. And so I will own my worshipful slumber, with pride. I might even do it again next Sunday.


Sue me.


When I was a teen-ager, a group of us would sit toward the back of the sanctuary so we could get a good view of those who fell asleep during the sermon. If you are a church regular, you know that you can always pick out two or three regular snoozers, then engage in friendly wagers about who will zone out first.


In our church, it was no contest.


There was one man who slipped in on Sunday, as worship began, took a spot on the back row and was fast asleep before the opening hymn was done. He was a heavy sleeper, too, but he usually was able to return to the land of the living by the time the benediction rolled around. We, of course, thought this was all very funny.


One day, I made a joking remark about it to my parents. I figured that my mom and dad, who sat near the front, knew nothing about the behavior of the back pew sleeper. And being that they were very serious about church, I presumed they would be appalled by this man’s misconduct. I thought wrong.


They found his actions commendable. They knew him. They knew he had taken a job driving a truck all night but was so committed to being at church on Sunday mornings that he risked falling asleep – a gamble he usually lost. What they saw in him was not a lack of respect but a heart for God.


When I became a pastor, it was difficult not to notice those who dozed off during worship. With some, it is hard to tell, unless they start snoring loudly, or, like me, get an elbow from their spouse. They put their heads back, with their eyes closed, either in deep meditation, sleeping, or both. There was one man, however, who was a known sleeper in my last church. Whenever he was there, he slept. And he frequently told me afterward what a good sermon I preached. So I always wondered about what he heard – but I didn’t ask.


It was enough that he was there. You may be aware that a lot of people these days don’t believe they can find the grace of God in a church, so they do their sleeping at home.


Some beloved colleagues in ministry have taught me to not take it personally when someone sleeps through your sermon. It’s not about me. They point out – and this in line with the wisdom of my parents – that we do not know what people have been through before they arrive at church. If they feel they are in a place where they feel such a level of peace that they can rest, then let God be praised.


Have you ever been bone-achingly tired but you prayed anyway, and you tried to keep the words going, struggling to remember what you wanted to say to God, but you fell asleep? I have a bad habit of talking too much to God and not doing enough listening, so perhaps sleep is my way of listening. I have prayed for sermons as I was going to bed and had them there for me when I woke up. At other times, the words of my late-night prayers gradually drifted away, eventually bringing me to the solitude that my mind and body required.


The Dutch Catholic priest Henri Nouwen wrote in Reaching Out that prayer is loving intimacy with God, and “that we can be truly present to God, who is present to us and speaks to us in our solitude.”


As we deal with the challenges of a pandemic, lost lives and lost jobs, and the often depressing cycle of news, we have opportunities to find places of solitude that will connect us with the God who walks with us in Christ, and who will never leave us nor forsake us. I went on a silent retreat in East Texas earlier this year with a few ministry friends. It gave us the chance to meditate on the scriptures as we walked among tall pines. One of the best gifts of those days were long afternoon naps.


Whether it is in your backyard, during a walk in the park, or online church, I encourage you to look for those places that provide opportunities for solitude. Know that God is present with you, and don’t be afraid to surrender to the healing sleep that our bodies and souls need right now.


May restful worship be yours – and let God be praised.






One Comment leave one →
  1. April 28, 2020 9:27 pm

    Let God be praised!

    Sent from my iPhone


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