The Spiritual Side of Sleep

www.relevantmagazine.com

Sleeping can be one of the most spiritual things you can do. Controversial? Definitely. True? I believe so.

I first heard this quote from John Ortberg, a teaching pastor at my church, a few years ago, and I am still thinking about it. The church was talking about sleep, and I found it refreshing and somewhat revolutionary.

The medical world seemed to acknowledge the importance of sleep long before the Church has. I practice medicine and am constantly talking to my patients about the importance of being well rested. People who do not sleep well or consistently are more likely to catch viruses, struggle with anxiety or depression and often have issues with their weight. Fatigue can affect our focus and concentration resulting in workers and students that are unable to perform to their full potential. Weariness has far reaching physical, emotional and economic effects.

But what I find fascinating, and discussed much less frequently, is the relational and spiritual side of sleeplessness. I see it in my own life. Not being well rested affects my ability to love my husband and my neighbor.

It is hard to be gentle, patient and self-controlled when I am running on empty. And my relationship with God? It seems nearly impossible to discern His guidance, hear and obey His voice or even pray when I am so fatigued that it takes all of my energy to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The call to take a nap, if needed, instead of reading the Bible or even going to church rings true. I am not advocating consistently neglecting meeting together with other believers because a Sunday afternoon nap sounds good…what I am acknowledging is that trying to push through exhaustion to complete one more task for God may be more detrimental than spiritual. It is possible that the best way to love your spouse or prepare your heart for worship is to fulfill our bodies God given need for rest.

It is an issue of lifestyle. Do we as Christian’s have enough space in our lives to meet our bodies’ basic needs, have a relationship with God and love our family and friends? Can we do the latter two without paying attention to the first? I have been thinking recently of someone who just accepted a job with a church in my area. His responsibilities seem overwhelming working as a pastor and in the church’s school. He gets one day off a week. I wonder how it will be possible for him to maintain his job, his relationship with his wife and kids, cultivate a relationship with God and get enough rest. Something of course will have to give, and one of those things will likely be sleep. It seems to be the least spiritual on the list.

I sometimes find it frustrating that the Christian community can be so dissociated from physical things, even our own bodies. Just as God has given us moral boundaries to live within that produce a peaceful and joyful life, there are also physical boundaries that should frame our choices. Although spiritual beings, we inhabit human bodies that were designed to function within certain limits…one of which is sufficient rest on a daily basis. This allows us to love and serve God more fully.

Anyone who has been around a tired child for more than five minutes can relate to this. Your five-year-old niece may know that hitting her sister is wrong, but if she has missed her nap it will be much more difficult to obey her parents, deny self and do what she knows to be right when her little sister steals her baby doll. What about the 23-year-old man who is tired, vulnerable and faced with sexual temptation? He too may face more of a struggle to embrace what is godly simply because of his physical fatigue.

The next time you are overly fatigued and struggling spiritually don’t dismiss the connection. Take a nap, it may be one of the most spiritual things you can do.

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