What you’re about to read isn’t an extension of “The Good Disciplines” series but a journal reflecting on the idea of Sleep in modern Christianity done for my spiritual formations class.
It was probably the strangest weekend of my entire collegiate career, coupled with the strangest homework assignment of my collegiate career. But yet as I returned to my room for a short practice session for my upcoming concert at Broadway Market I couldn’t help but think about that homework assignment. The assignment was to sleep, something I’m normally very good at, in fact I generally get around 8 hours a night, going to bed at 10 and waking up at 6, I’ve never really had a problem with getting sleep. That was until it became the first spiritual discipline we would be practicing for Spiritual Formations.
As I said, I returned that night intending to be in bed by ten, but ten came and passed and me and the young lady who was helping me with the music and I decided to head over to another friends room. There I wasn’t going to stay long but instead stayed for a movie and staying there until close to 1AM. I know that this was a choice, but it actually became a struggle between should I hang out and should I work hard to get this assignment done. Sleep became a battle, do I stay up and fellowship with the ones that I love or do I take the healthier route and go to sleep. In the end I decided to fellowship and actually had two of the more spiritually invigorating late nights I’ve had at Sterling. Obviously I’ve recounted the first night, watching a movie with 8 of my closest friends after worshiping and songwriting with a close friend and sister in Christ.
The second night continued that same pattern as an old friend of mine came down to visit for the long weekend, which led to another late night worship session including another new friend, two guitars and amazing conversation. That all ended by about 12:30 and I finally climbed into bed around 12:45, with church the next morning it would be impossible to wake up after laying in bed until I wasn’t tired anymore. Like the morning before I got up at 7 and started going about my day as I normally would. At this point I could tell the toll this schedule was taking on my body as I woke up Sunday with a nasty headache and a stuffy nose. Now this was part of dealing with allergies but by the time I left the cafeteria I could barely keep my eyes open, I needed a nap.
Now I know the assignment wasn’t meant to be done in a nap setting but I ended up taking a four hour nap, after which I felt slightly refreshed. My allergies were still a factor, I still felt like my head was going to explode, but I was able to hold a decent conversation with people again and that was what mattered to me since I had people coming over to work on Homework before Chapel. I took some Benadryl to help with the congestion and told myself I was going to bed at 10…
One would think at this point, even with the four hour nap I would have just passed out there on my couch with a bottle of water in one hand and a math book in the other. Instead when 10:00 came I was still wide awake and losing focus on my homework. This night though was different from the others, I had no commitments in the morning, it didn’t matter when I went to sleep. When 10:30 rolled around I got my chance to sleep, it wasn’t as late as the previous two nights but it felt just as late. I crawled into bed and resolved to not wake up until I absolutely had too or I couldn’t sleep anymore, whichever came first. At 7:00 the next morning I found myself unable to get back to sleep, I had slipped back into my regular sleep schedule for the first time in a long time, it was the first night of that long weekend that I’d actually slept my usual amount of time and I felt strangely refreshed. I went to the café and did my devotions, said goodbye to my visiting friend and thought about how long it was going to take to recover from my crazy sleep schedule.
Before going to Denver two summers ago it was always a mystery to me why it was so hard to stick to developing good spiritual habits. Bible study and prayer were about the only two I practiced, that coupled with sleep but I was still extremely unhealthy in more ways than one. I think now more than ever I am convinced of the fact that the enemy doesn’t want us to be healthy, even to do some of the basic spiritual formations like sleep. Even though the activities that kept me from sleeping Friday and Saturday were actually healthy when I finally went to bed at a decent time it was difficult for me to fall asleep. Brad Stine once said “If the devil did anything for you he probably just woke you up in the morning[i]” I disagree, though Brad was talking about the things we blame the devil for, I defiantly think he has a hand in trying to throw off our spiritual lives. I know I can name countless times where because of depression or fatigue or some kind of personal, inward distraction I haven’t wanted to practice any of the spiritual disciplines that I have become acquainted with.
In C.S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters the main character Screwtape tells his nephew, a tempting Demon “The best thing is to keep the patient from the serious intention of prayer altogether[ii]” (pg 15). Now here Screwtape is talking about prayer, but I think the same thing can be applied to sleep when sleep is viewed as something that will help us to be healthy, formed Christians. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says’ “When I was a child I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became a man I gave up childish ways” (v.11 ESV). If we must start doing what is healthy for us then it stands to reason that the enemy would like to see us fail in every effort to keep us from giving up “Childish ways.”
Of course I cannot discount the human aspect of failing to really practice this discipline multiple nights in a row. I could have sent people away from my room at 10, told them I needed to sleep, but yet I chose to spend my time in fellowship with others, which as I said is healthy, but when you recount our busy lives it seems that choosing to sleep more than one night would have been a wiser choice. Especially As Smith pointed out in his section on sleep, Americans do get less and less sleep every night. We certainly haven’t thought about the consequences of not sleeping enough, I certainly don’t think about them until I am suffering greatly from lack of sleep. I know I would rather be with people then sleeping, but I’ve also come to realize, and this weekend reaffirmed, that I need my sleep to function, I can’t become so busy or so wrapped up in church or in hanging out with friends that I don’t allow myself to get the right amount of sleep.
I also think that now that I’m conscience of this disparity in sleep it will be more difficult for awhile to actually get the right amount of sleep. For example last night I left my friends on the porch at 10 and went inside to get some sleep, that didn’t happen, I didn’t go to sleep till an hour later, this wasn’t intended but because I knew I needed sleep for some reason it was hard for me to go to sleep. If that makes any sense at all, that act of getting ready for bed and then climbing into bed became extremely difficult and now today, without an adequate amount of rest I’m feeling the effects of even missing that extra hour.
It seems difficult to think about how important sleep is, In fact we don’t put enough emphasis on the idea of sleeping. Instead we complain when we don’t get enough, pump ourselves full of coffee and slowly get more and more unhealthy until we become the poster child for burned out Christians and slip head first into apathy.
In conclusion once I get over the idea of sleep as a discipline and actually practice it from night to night it will be less of a struggle. This really is a sort of mind blowing idea for someone like me who is so focused on getting things done in a timely manner.
God Bless You
Jonathan David Faulkner
10:31 Life Ministries
I’ve been thinking about sleep recently, too; especially today.
See, I’ve come to a turning point in my spiritual walk, one that I hope will ultimately lead me deeper into the heart of the Father. I’m struggling in the midst of this event, though, and I am spiritually restless.
Usually I sleep soundly through the night, regardless of the events of the day. But for the past few nights I have had trouble falling asleep, or woken in the night, or been restless in the early hours of the morning. This morning my covers, which are usually relatively undisturbed, were sideways on the bed.
Like you, I’m having some trouble with allergies, but I don’t think this is by any means the sole cause of my discomfort. I think my difficulty sleeping reflects a deeper battle that’s being waged in my heart right now, and at least in some capacity, it is reflective of spiritual attack.
All this to say, while I believe our good intentions can undergo attack from the devil, our efforts can be foiled as well if we close our eyes to the realities that surround us; all the realities, be they spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social, or other.
The physical conditions were the allergies and the fact that campbell hall gets only down to about 70 at night right now, but I’ve adjusted to that. The biggest problem has been making the decisions away from sleep as I said in the article. This decision became harder when I started viewing it as a discipline instead of just something we do naturally. It also became very easy to overlook and today I find myself struggling to stay awake which isn’t something I normally do these days.