Monday, April 14, 2014

Are We Throwing the Baby Out With the Hammock?

by Chad Roper

That old “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” phrase may hold much modern wisdom for us as we field some of the curve balls that 21st century living throws our way.

First, though, we need to talk babies.

One thing that Sarah and I love to do is babysit. Watching our nieces and nephews allows us to briefly experience the joys and challenges of parenting with the comfortable assurance of a designated end point.  For example, if we become exhausted after a marathon crying session, or if the Pull-Ups leak all over our new bed––well, at least I know it won’t happen again the next night!

Case in point: our three-year-old nephew, Noah, is a “restless sleeper.”  Now to call Noah a restless sleeper is like saying that the sun’s hot, forever is a long time, or that the Pope is Catholic.  This kid doesn’t know what still is!

When you first get him down for bed, he’s pretty calm, and he lulls you into a false sense of security––enough that you almost drift off to sleep.  And that’s when the first kick happens.  Out of the nowhere, he lets loose with a full-bore, field-goal-worthy kick to the groin. Or the stomach if you’re lucky. And this is only the beginning.  About every two hours or so, he makes a full 360 degree rotation, punching and kicking whatever soft, fleshy parts of our bodies get within his range.  I’ve also learned that even if you manage to crumple yourself up at the bottom of the bed, well outside of “the circle of pain,” you still are not safe from Noah’s sleep sabotage.  I’ve never heard another human being be quite so verbally expressive while totally unconscious.  It’s as if he doesn’t hit his question quota during his waking hours!

One of Sarah’s many talents, for which she garners my deepest respect, is her ability to endure this assault for its entire duration.  I, on the other hand, learned my lesson from the first dose of this madness and typically get up as soon as Noah falls asleep to seek safer slumber elsewhere.  Usually this means sleeping in my hammock.

Now I fully acknowledge the unusual nature of utilizing a hammock as an alternative to the traditional pillow and mattress.  I know that most people would never consider doing such a thing.  But, as I am often reminded when it comes to things like this, I am not like most people.  As a backpacker and cyclist, I’ve come to love the wonderful benefits hammock camping affords.  They’re lightweight, incredibly packable and just plain simple.  I’ve had some of the greatest sleep of my life suspended over roots, rocks and rubble, on the inclines of mountains, or in dry as a bone during torrential downpours, all while peacefully swaying back and forth.

One day, long before I was married, I rearranged my bedroom, adjusted my mattress and washed all my sheets. With all the added complexity of beds, I couldn’t help wondering if there wasn’t an easier, more simpler way to sleep.  Maybe there was something outside of the box that I hadn’t considered.  I recalled the sublimely restful sleep I’d experienced in my camping hammock and wondered if I couldn’t replicate that in my house.  After drilling a couple eyebolts into the studs of my bedroom walls, I was totally sold on indoor hammocks! 

Much like Noah, I used to toss and turn quite a bit during the night.  After sleeping in my hammock, however, I noticed that these issues were completely eliminated. This prompted me to investigate further into using hammocks as beds.  I was amazed to discover that people had been sleeping in hammocks for thousands of years and that I was apparently the last one to join the party.  I also discovered that in addition to offering a good night’s sleep, the hammock also offered a lot of medical benefits as well, to include: falling asleep faster, increased length of N2 sleep (which is tied to greater brain plasticity), and a reduction of insomnia and restless sleeping due to healthy body positioning and zero pressure points.  When I then told other people about this “grand rediscovery” of mine, they oftentimes failed to share my enthusiasm. In some cases, they couldn’t even fathom what spending a night in a hammock was like.  This ancient, traditional way to sleep had become almost wholly forgotten.

Today, millions of young people, from my age down to little children like my nephew Noah, won’t even be aware of the fact that once upon a time, there was a day at the beginning of every week that was set aside by God for rest and renewal.  It was a day when grocery stores and gas stations were closed and families spent the day together, engaged in leisurely and restorative activities.  Can you even believe, given the way we live our lives now, that such a time ever existed? I’d imagine that if the gas stations were closed, a person would have to plan and prepare when they filled up their tanks. Might these be some of the same values that we’re losing?  I know there are many people who could not imagine the inconvenience of such a day and would feel greatly constrained by it’s observance.  Where convenience is concerned, I think it’s important to remember, that God provides us with such instructions not to burden us, but to lighten and free us and so that we can live better, more fuller lives with Him!  While it may be nice to live in a society of instant gratification, what have we sacrificed in gradually yielding up our day of rest?  What do we lose when we can’t spend time with our families and friends over holidays because they have to go work at a store that never closes?  What do we lose when of the health our loved ones deteriorates after years and years of non-stop momentum and stress? 

Maybe keeping the Sabbath holy isn’t the bathwater we think it is.

Life is an opportunity to be agents of Christ’s light, love and restoration, not only to those around us but to the whole world over. Preserving the Sabbath, as mandated by God Himself, helps us fulfill our calling. Weary ourselves, what do we offer our brothers and sisters who are on the verge of total physical and spiritual exhaustion? Who among us cannot use a day to be renewed and recalibrated by God’s goodness?

Compared to my grand “re-discovery” of the Sabbath and its purposes, the hammock realization became nothing! Observing God’s sacred day creates this beautiful life rhythm in which my work is orderly and purposeful. I have delineated boundaries, looking forward to definite end points in my tasks – the same way I do with babysitting.

Immersed in actively resting, my soul is refreshed and my perspective is rejuvenated. I am free to experience the love and peace of Almighty God, the One who spoke the universe into existence, in a brand new way. Reading my Bible with a fresh cup of coffee in hand, walking in the warm afternoon sun, appreciating His stunning handiwork … all are wholly new and wonderfully electric experiences. 

Observing the Sabbath is just one of many ancient and, dare I say, neglected expressions of our faith. Rediscovering and implementing this important aspect of Christianity will enrich our lives individually and corporately. Make time to rest in the knowledge of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

Hiding in plain sight, it’s His solution for that which afflicts us. We need only do it.