I teach, and my students fall asleep.
Not all of them. Not all the time. But a few of them, every now and again. I’m at the front of the room doing my best to be as engaging and enthusiastic as possible, and out of the corner of my eye I see it: the head tipped forward, the mouth slightly ajar, the closed eyes.
And I always, always think: Are you kidding me?
I’m not the only one it happens to. Nor is it a problem for only college professors or school teachers. My mother is an excellent and engaging Sunday School teacher, and I once watched an adult man, over weeks of her consecutive teaching, fall asleep and actually snore through her class.
As you can see, I can’t help but have a kneejerk reaction to it. It always seems so rude and thoughtless. Yes, I know people have legitimate reasons to be tired and life is demanding, but something about having someone fall asleep while you’re in the middle of talking feels like an outright rebuke: a slap in the face that says you’re just not enough to keep my attention, sorry.
Which is why I am always so impressed with Paul when I read Acts 20:9. Paul was gathered with believers in Troas, and because he was due to depart the next day he was getting his words in. Scripture said that lamps were lit and he talked until around midnight, whereupon this happens:
Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.
What makes this story absurdly funny and not tragic is that Paul pauses, runs downstairs, resurrects the man, goes back upstairs and has a bite to eat, and then – this is the best part – goes on talking until morning.
I usually read this as a study in Paul’s – and, from a larger perspective, God’s – patience with those who are still growing. Yes, Eutychus dozed off. Yes, it was probably rude – everything indicates that Paul’s presence was a rare gift. Yes, he was missing out. And yes, his sleepy carelessness got him killed. And yet Paul, rather than shrug it off as the penalty for his behavior, rather than be aggravated or upset, goes down and gives him another chance. What grace!
But you know what else strikes me on a re-reading? Paul didn’t second-guess his own manner or his methods. He didn’t let external circumstances dictate his plans. If someone had fallen asleep during my teaching to the point that they fell backwards out a window and had to be resurrected, I think I would’ve probably wrapped it up after that with a quick prayer of gratitude and some praise. I would have permitted the circumstances to shorten my thoughts and transform my original intent.
Not Paul. He talked till midnight, paused for a resurrection, and then kept right on talking until dawn. He was patient and acted out of great love for the man who had fallen, surely – and yet he didn’t let that distracting little incident change what it was that he had come to do. He wanted to get his words out – and so he did. The incident didn’t make him become self-conscious and it didn’t even seem to anger or disturb him in any meaningful way.
If only I could be so secure and confident. All too often, I monitor what’s going on around me and I allow it to dictate my response, how I’m thinking or feeling, or what I decide to do. Would that I had Paul’s conviction to just keep right on going, interruptions and all – and would that I had his ability to let aggravations and interruptions and all manner of distractions slide!
Truly, every time I read the story of Eutychus I can’t help but realize that remaining unruffled is as godly a skill as I can hope to cultivate. For the world, panic and confusion and kneejerk responses, the shifting sands of opinions and circumstance; for the believer, the smooth and placid conviction of knowing what is important, and what is not, and dismissing the rest.
May you remain joyously unruffled by whatever life throws at you today!
P.S. The first full week of the Jonathan study is available here. Come join!