Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.
— Victor Hugo
Years ago when my kids, Hank and Charlie, were very young, and they put their elbows on the table during a meal, what followed typically went something like this:
Dad: "Boys, elbows off the table."
Hank: (as his brother, Charlie, is removing his elbows from the table) "Why?"
Dad: "Because I said so."
Things have changed a great deal since then. Last week, I was having breakfast with my two now young-adult sons in a nice restaurant in a nice hotel, and the more recent exchange went something like this:
Dad: Guys, elbows off the table.
Hank: Dad, you know the reason the no-elbows-on-the-table rule even came into existence was that in the past, most tables weren't as well-made and sturdy as they are now. They'd break more easily when people put their full weight down. So, it's really not so much a problem anymore, especially with tables like this one.
Charlie: Makes sense.
I tell this little story to suggest that as we get older, when we offer instruction to others, simple appeals to authority, such as that encapsulated in the parental go-to "Because I said so," become less and less effective in most cases. As we move into adulthood, we human beings need more. We need reasons. We need good rationales. We're less likely to follow the guidance and instruction we receive unless it comes with a sound explanation that's persuasive to us and makes sense inside. I think this is why I like the advice about how to live successfully in a difficult world that the French 19th century novelist, Victor Hugo, offers. His guidance concludes with a sound rationale. Something persuasive to absorb and to always remember. Hugo wrote: "Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
Hugo's instruction includes just about everything one could possibly want as far as good guidance goes: Be courageous, be patient, and work hard, he urges, then rest in comfort and peace, knowing this is not only enough, it's really all we can do. The rest can be left in the capable hands of our un-slumbering God, a God who, Hugo tells us, is awake. Always.
There's a profound wisdom in recognizing we have a sense of agency that has the power to generate a wholesome form of peace inside of us at the end of a well-spent day. Likewise, there's a profound humility present in acknowledging that this marks out our limits, and what remains is God's to do as we sleep, preparing for the next day ahead. In fact, Hugo's rationale—that God is always at the helm—not only encourages us to relax at the end of our day's mighty exertions but is something we should heed in other contexts, as well.
For instance, what if we're simply unable to summon up the courage to overcome the greatest of life's sorrows? Well, Hugo tells us, God is there. God is awake to hear our supplications, even our lamentations. What if we can't find the patience to bear the smaller slings and arrows that life constantly throws in our general direction? God is always available for consultation. God is awake.
What if we find ourselves bereft of the necessary energy or without enough time to accomplish all the urgencies of the present day? God is close, for us to offload our anxieties. God stands ready to listen, ready to offer comfort. Ready for conversation. Ready for communion. God is awake.
What if we find it impossible to find rest, to find peace, to turn off our minds, and to fall asleep as the sun goes down? God remains awake with us all night long, if need be, to soothe us, to still our hearts, and to quiet our excessive ruminations. What if we require grace, thirst for mercy, seek compassion, want for companionship, desire guidance in a crisis, wish for assurance, lack for confidence, yearn for fortitude, or need more faith? God is awake.
Even if we just need some divine assistance to help our kids remember the manners we've taught them and to guide them in the way they should go, we could ask God for that, as well. For God is awake.
God — Thank You for being awake even now. Amen.
— Greg Funderburk