Culture At Large

The real reason we sleep together

Caryn Rivadeneira

Though I don’t love to travel without my family, I confess: when I’m away on a speaking gig or at a conference, nothing quite thrills me like opening a hotel door and realizing I’ll get to enjoy a whole bed. To myself.

And yet, after only one night indulging in the luxury of stretching and sprawling without fighting for covers or sheets, my delight fades. By night two, I miss my family and the big snuggles, small touches and whispered conversations that come with bedtime. Suddenly, having the whole big bed to myself seems less luxurious and more barren.

According to the Atlantic, this is right on. In an article titled “Why We Sleep Together,” Jon Methven writes that although most of us do indeed sleep better when sleeping alone, humans cultivated the habit of sleeping together for financial and scared-of-the-dark reasons. (Beds and heat are expensive; witches and robbers dangerous!)

But all along, Methven says, sleeping together provided something else. 

“We sleep together … because we are affectionate beings,” he writes. “Our minds need rest, but our minds also need camaraderie and intimacy and whispering. Anxiety and stress seem less intimidating when discussed with a partner while wearing pajamas.”

Methven’s piece gave shape to a question that had been brewing in my mind since hearing a recent sermon about being “held by God.”

Understanding our primal need to sleep together helped me understand our need to be held by God.

“Held by God” is a term we Christians throw around a lot. We speak of God’s hand upon us. We sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” But I’d guess I’m not the only one who’s ever wrestled with what being “held” by God really looks or feels like. Especially when life starts going awry. When I’ve faced financial uncertainty or worried over a loved one’s health, the idea of being “held by God” has at times been almost frustrating - especially when we’d like God’s hands to be doing less holding and more fixing.

Even so, Methven’s article snapped my thoughts into focus and led me to Matthew 23:37, where Jesus laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

This passage lives in the tension between God’s longing to hold us and His granting of free will. Jesus wanted to pull those people close, but He didn’t force it. Likewise, God loves us enough to draw us near and set us loose. Free will means that although our omnipotent God could step in and fix every problem, He often (mostly?) does not. Just as Jesus did not fix every problem for Jerusalem. We live out and live with the effects of our individual and collective sins.

Understanding our primal need to sleep together helped me understand our need to be held by God. When folks began to co-sleep for protection from robbers and witches, the presence of another didn’t guarantee safety, but gave comfort, that of having another with you. When husbands and wives share worries or frustrations while lying side by side, they don’t always solve the fears or issues raised. When parents cuddle storm-rattled kids, we can’t still the thunder. But being there, listening, scratching backs and riding it out together is enough. Enough to get through a rough night, enough to face new mornings.

That’s the reason we sleep together and the reason we take comfort that God holds us. He is there with us, His Mother Hen wings wide open, longing to nuzzle, to ride it out or walk us through, to be there when we rise to fresh mercies.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends, History, Home & Family, Family