A View from the Pew: Asleep at the Pew

Pew_smOf all the human frailties that impact my ability to worship God, none frustrates me more than fatigue.

As a child, I never slept in church. I was always a wiggler, which in hindsight I prefer to describe as “an active listener.” This form of worship engagement earned me several trips to the vestibule for corporal punishment. My brother, Lee, on the other hand, was comatose from the offering to the benediction. He did not receive the slightest rebuke.

I don’t know what role those formational experiences in worship play now in my attempts to be engaged throughout a service, but I do know that in recent years my greatest struggle is to simply stay awake.

I do not blame the style of music, the length of the pastoral prayer, or even the pastor’s tone or topic. There are just some days when I could be sitting on an artillery range, and I still couldn’t stay awake.

I’ve tried chemical stimulants. My caffeine consumption quadruples on Sunday mornings, but this has little effect, despite downing coffee all through Bible study.

I’ve tried chewing gum. All this does is make my mouth hurt, and when I go slack-jawed and drooly, the gum ends up in my lap.

I’ve sought accountability. My wife gives me the atomic elbow of death when my head gets wobbly, and even my teenaged son has taken up the cause of keeping Daddy awake in church.

The root problem, my wife tells me, is that I don’t get enough sleep. I’m an early riser. I try to fit praying, writing, and running into my daily routine, all before an hour-long morning commute, which typically begins at 7 a.m. I do sleep in until 6 a.m. on Saturday, but even on Sundays I’m up at 5 a.m. to iron and plan my week. This schedule allows me six to seven hours of sleep a night. I can do this during the week, but by Sunday, I physically cannot sit still and quiet in worship for an hour without drifting off into oblivion.

What I really need is rest. This simple antidote wouldn’t seem like much of epiphany, and certainly not one worthy of a blog post, but sometimes it’s the most obvious of solutions that I resist most vehemently.

Worship is important. I need it at least as much as I need sleep. But if I don’t have meaningful worship experiences each week, I don’t endanger myself driving home from work, annoy my family with grouchiness or miss key instructions for compiling my department’s fiscal year 2015 budget in a meeting.

When will I learn to stop denying my humanity? Even Christ acknowledged to his disciples that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. I take no comfort in knowing that the disciples couldn’t stay awake while praying, and I’ve always blamed Paul in the story of the guy who fell asleep during one of his lengthy discourses and fell out of a window.

With this dilemma, I have a choice: change my lifestyle or give up on corporate worship. So far I’ve been unwilling to do either, with less-than-satisfying results.

Maybe you don’t have this problem, and maybe this is more of a function of my phase of life. Working full time, being a husband and father and caring about and for aging parents requires more time and energy than my life used to consume. Something has to give, and I’m not willing to let that be worship.

So, dear readers, you are my accountability partners. I commit to changing my schedule so that I get six to eight hours more sleep each week, and to be attentive and alert each week in worship. You must commit to sharing your strategies for staying awake in church and checking in with me about how it’s going. You can find me on all forms of social media.

The coffee is wearing off, and I feel a nap coming on. I think I’ll go spend some time in silent reflection.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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  1. Chris could’ve written this. I forwarded this to him to read. Hopefully he’s not asleep at his desk….

  2. Chris Quarles says

    I hear you about that atomic elbow! It’s like being next to a kung fu movie actor; a lightning fast elbow chop and my wife’s lips say “Wake up you goober” while the subtitles say “I told you to get some sleep”. I don’t know why I fight rest so hard. Maybe it’s a complex mental-physical reaction to the tornado of issues demanding my attention. After riding the twister like a modern Pecos Bill I have a hard time shutting off in the evening.