“But slumber hold me tightly till I waken in the dawn,
And hear the thrushes singing in the lilacs round the lawn.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A Good Boy,’ in A Child’s Garden of Verses

How to think about the sleeping hours of the day might call for more attention than we give it.

Here surely is something that is given to us by our nature, and is at once a real boon and a limitation. It calls for our careful consideration, for the sake of our health and of our being able to live a truly human life.

At times we resent the sleeping hours of the day, and we craftily steal away some of them, adding to our waking hours, seeking to be more ‘productive.’ We can also be tempted to sleep too long, postponing the challenges which inevitably await us. Sometimes duty or love requires that we choose to forego the sleeping hours, keeping vigil with the sick, helping some friend, or catching up on some pressing project.

It’s interesting that sleeping problems are rather common, especially as we grow older. Some of these are surely beyond our direct control and are thus to be endured with patience, even while we continue to seek some relief. Sleeping problems can bring to our attention just how much we need sleep, how it is an irreplaceable part of our day.

Parents often love to watch their children sleep. There is something so right, so fitting, so peaceful. The seemingly boundless energy of a child has run low; now it is time for him to rest, and for us too, perhaps after we get a few more things done.

Sleep is always a gift. Isn’t it interesting how though we can dispose ourselves for it, it must come to us. It cannot be forced or grabbed, but must be received—as so many of the even more important things in life.

But we can prepare ourselves, and be disciplined, and in this way render due honor to the natural order that both demands and offers to us our sleep. They say that turning off all screen-devices some time before going to bed is important, and this surely makes good sense in any case. The wise have always suggested that seeking to make peace in all our relationships is essential.

This insight can bring us back each evening to what is most important in our lives. Where do we stand in our relationships? It is always in my power, at least, to assume an appropriate disposition in myself toward the other persons in my life–perhaps simply of goodwill, or blessing, or forgiveness–before I close my eyes for sleep.

So I can do my part, in various ways, in receiving the gift of sleep. And when the sun arises, birds will indeed be singing, and may there be enough of a good-boy’s heart in me to hear them still.

R.L Stevenson (1850-1894) is the great Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and other classics.

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