catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 4 :: 2005.02.25 — 2005.03.10


The gift of sleep

Losing one’s job and starting a new business requires many shifts in priority. What to spend money on, what to spend time doing—everything is up for grabs. One of the first things that came to mind to cut back on was sleep. Due to the fact that my old job was telecommuting, and I saved time by not having to drive or put on a suit, I allowed myself a full night’s rest each day. But so far, sleep has proven the most difficult thing to give up.

The thing I’ve noticed about myself as I’ve grown older is that the condition of my body and mind has a direct effect on my thoughts and actions. The more rested I am, the more I’ve been eating healthily, the more prone I am to be relaxed, generous, and forgiving. The more tired or stressed I am, the more irritable, grudging, and unwelcoming I can be. It’s not something I notice until it’s too late and I have to take back words.

Is it too much of a stretch, then, to suggest that ample sleep is a Christian virtue—a spiritual discipline that enables us to open our hearts wide? I do not mean to suggest that those who cannot get enough sleep, which will likely include me in a few months time, somehow have a scapegoat for poor behavior. But it seems to me that caring for our bodies is one way in which we can honor the way we were made and the life God would have for us. If a good night’s sleep makes me more receptive to God’s Spirit of gentleness, peace, mercy and joy, then shouldn’t I take it? If my crabbier instincts are dulled by ample sleep, isn’t it proper to indulge?

Even as I write this, I find myself using the words of modern society. Sleep is something that must be stolen, taken, grabbed, caught. It is luxurious, indulgent. Back in college I prided myself on how little sleep I got each night. No one I knew got enough rest. It seemed we all believed in Thomas Edison’s hope that the electric lightbulb would eliminate the need for all but three to four hours of sleep. Sleep simply meant missing out on life—“I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” as the saying goes.

It’s hard to extricate oneself from this mindset, and for me it took the concept of Sabbath rest. I grew up thinking of the Sabbath as a Jewish thing, and I couldn’t really comprehend the fact that, while my parents were growing up, most stores were closed on Sundays. It wasn’t until I was married and we met some people who challenged us to take a day for God that I discovered how necessary it was—to quiet a brain that swirled with lists of things to do and remind myself that it is God and not accomplishment that is the cornerstone of my life. Although sleep is not particularly God-centered, it can do the same thing by putting us in a sane frame of mind, a centered place from where we can make loving choices.

The Bible never commands us to get a good night’s sleep. But if we believe that God created this world for us, that he designed day and night and called them good, that before Edison the majority of people slept and rose to the rhythm of the sun, then I think there is some indication of God’s will there. There is another hint of it in Christ’s admonishment not to worry about tomorrow, or what you will eat or wear, but to rest in God’s care for us. He echoes Psalm 127:2: “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat — for he grants sleep to those he loves.” Sleep, it seems, is a gift of God. And although the phrase has lost most of its meaning, to bid someone “good night” is to wish them no less than the peace of God.

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