When I first started walking seriously with the Lord in college, I read some short book about Mother Theresa. I don’t remember the title, it was just the most extreme thing I could find in the ‘Religion’ section at Barnes & Noble (dangerous place to browse, BTW). The book said that she slept only four hours each day so that she could do the most in her life for God.
“Wow,” I thought, “that’s intense. I’m going to do that too!” And the commitment lasted one day, I think. Maybe not even that long. Pretty soon, it hit me. I WAS NOT MOTHER THERESA. That was so disappointing.
But, seriously, what is the deal with sleep? I mean, it seems that the most productive, influential, and effective people don’t sleep much. (I love this post from Frugal Dad about his resolution to wake up early in 2009.) And yet, it’s always hard to drag my bones out of bed after that alarm clock goes off.
Even Jesus presents a complex picture. We read that He got up early in the morning (but only once or twice is that recorded). But, we also read that He took a nap in the middle of the day (there’s the example you were looking for!).
As I continued to struggle through sometimes sleeping too much, sometimes too little and feeling awful about both sides of the horse, I stumbled upon a great little section in a book by John Piper. (more about this below)
Is Patience a Fruit of the Spirit or Lots of Sleep?
There’s one great chapter in the book about the way that God has intertwined our physical and spiritual lives so that both depend upon one another. I’ll never forget the question he posed, ‘Is patience a fruit of the Spirit or the result of a good night’s rest?’
The truth is that no matter the amount, God designed humans to need innocent and neutral physical things-like food and exercise. Sleep is one of those innocent things that can be used to push us toward God or to seduce us away from Him. ‘Our situation is precarious.’ These innocent things pose great dangers as they can so easily become idols. And yet, we can’t avoid them. God created us to need sleep-whether a little or a lot.
This is crazy weird. Why would God make super saints to need such a wasteful activity like sleep? I mean, if his disciples could all keep charged on a power nap every now and again, we could save this world in a jiffy! If Mother Theresa could have slept just 1 hour instead of 4, just think of all she could have accomplished. But God did not do that. He made, even the saintliest of saints to need sleep.
A large part of becoming ‘saintly’ is becoming humble. The need for sleep humbles us. Our eyes shut, the snoring starts, and the world keeps spinning. We wake up from doing nothing for hours and realize much has happened in the world apart from our doing. And it hits us: we are human.
Sleep reminds us that we are not God. As productive as we may be, we are limited by our frail physical bodies that need. some. sleep. God has united our bodies and our spirits in such a way that careless uses of our bodies will ordinarily (without God’s intervention) diminish our sights of they joy to be found in God.
So, what now?
- We’ve got to determine the amount of sleep we need to be alert and focused and able to enjoy God throughout our days. (And to realize that this amount will change over time through life’s stages)
- We’ve got to ask for grace in order to discipline ourselves toward providing space for that amount of sleep in our days.
- We’ve got to be aware of our frailty when we don’t get enough sleep-asking God to be merciful and gracious to us in those days to provide supernatural adrenaline to be patient and joyful and to ask for help and patience from others.
Thoughts? How do you battle with sleep in your life? How do you figure out how much you need and yet function when it’s not possible to get that much?
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