Sleeping in Church

I love the story of Eutychus in the New Testament (Acts 20). As one who in the past has been guilty of napping in church, it speaks to my heart. Jonathan Swift wrote on the topic in the following in a sermon he gave back in the 18th century:

“And there sat in the window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep; and while Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” – Acts xx. 9.

I have chosen these words with design, if possible, to disturb some part in this audience of half an hour’s sleep, for the convenience and exercise whereof this place, at this season of the day, is very much celebrated.

There is indeed one mortal disadvantage to which all preaching is subject, that those who, by the wickedness of their lives, stand in greatest need, have usually the smallest share; for either they are absent upon the account of idleness, or spleen, or hatred to religion, or in order to doze away the intemperance of the week; or, if they do come, they are sure to employ their minds rather any other way than regarding or attending to the business of the place.

The accident which happened to this young man in the text hath not been sufficient to discourage his successors; but because the preachers now in the world, however they may exceed St. Paul in the art of setting men to sleep, do extremely fall short of him in the working of miracles, therefore men are become so cautious as, to choose more safe and convenient stations and postures for taking their repose without hazard of their persons, and upon the whole matter choose rather to trust their destruction to a miracle than their safety.

I really can’t begin to suggest that my reasons for getting sleepy in Sacrament meeting are what Swift decries in his sermon. He suggest bad preaching, heavy eating before coming to church, and meetings that go on too long. Normally on Sundays, I haven’t really had a big meal prior to coming to church, and I probably more guilty of giving bad talks myself than hearing bad talks.

No, I think there are other reasons, which I hope will convince my wife. First, sitting still in a meeting for an extended period of time is unusual for me, as I normally am pretty active at work, even though I spend most of my time at a desk. Sunday is the one day that sitting is a passive activity for me, and sleep catches up with me. Second, my current calling in the church means that my Sunday starts with a 6 AM meeting, and I generally don’t get home until 3 or 4 PM. But most of all, I like Levi Peterson’s statement that napping in church, surrounded by the best people he knows, seems safe and comfortable. And I hope that some of the talks and the feelings are getting through, even though my eyelids grow heavy.

(Note – In all fairness, now that I am often in meetings without my wife, who is in our home ward, I find that I am not quite as easily seduced by the desire to nap. She will be happy to know that, and I think that I am always more comfortable when she is around. She’ll also be happy about that.)