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Yes, God Gave Us Sleep

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Sunday March 5 Lent Calendar* Invite: Attend worship. Practice the spiritual discipline of rest by going to bed at a reasonable time.

Sundays in Lent invite us into two things: worship and rest.

This week as we ponder rest, let’s look at bedtimes and sleep. Do you remember what time you had to go to bed as a child? Were there certain routines your parents did with you every night? When you went to college, did you have a bedtime? Do you have a bedtime currently, like you always retire by 9:00 PM? Or midnight? Or do you not go to sleep until certain tasks are done? Or is your bed time always “whenever”?

The year after my 11-year-old’s diagnosis with Type 1 Diabetes, I was at my annual physical. As I reviewed everything with my doctor, who I trusted and was very fond of, he said, “You need to do two things. You need to walk everyday and you need to sleep. Set yourself a bedtime.” I looked at him like he was ludicrous. I didn’t say it out loud, but thought in my mind, “You have to be kidding me! A bedtime!? I can’t sleep! I have to check my son’s blood sugar through the night!” My expression must have given away my words. He looked at me gently and said, “If you want to take good care of your son, you need to take good care of you. You can get more sleep. I promise you it’s there. Maybe going to bed at the same time as your son would help.” I was highly doubtful.

As his words settled inside me, I knew he was right. The physical reality was that I needed more rest. So did my soul. I began pondering the spiritual discipline of rest and the long history of Christians and rhythms of time and sleeping. A few months prior to my annual checkup, I had gone for a little retreat at a monastery. When the monk showed me to my room, his eyes seemed to speak the love and the deep knowing of Jesus. He said, “Take a nap.” I almost cried. I had been exhausted for so long, that the loving permission to take a nap was a gift beyond measure.

Part of Christian discipleship is learning to live within life-giving rhythms. Monasteries of old had astronomy towers to study the wonder of the sky and to order the rhythms of the days and weeks and months and years. Hours were set for worship and prayer and sleep. Sometimes throughout history, and sometimes now, those rules got rigid, bedtimes got rigid, worship got rigid. It became “pharisaical.” In the Bible, the Pharisees were the ones who wanted to keep rigid rules, not recognizing that God’s spirit was moving beyond the rigidity. Jesus repeatedly pushed back on the Pharisees. Jesus, time and time again, invited people into life-giving rhythms versus life-draining rigidity.

I came to realize that setting some parameters around my bedtime was essential. Setting a soft bedtime and how many hours of sleep I needed was important, but even more important was setting what I call “the spirit of surrender” as my head hit the pillow. I knew that no matter what time I went to bed, if I carried stress and anxiety into my sleep, I would not truly rest. I knew I would even need to let go and trust that God was watching over Jude. I began reading this reminder every night from Dorothy Bass who noted that the day does not begin at dawn, but at dusk when we go to bed:

"The first part of the day passes in darkness, but not in inactivity. God is out growing the crops even before the farmer is up and knitting together the wound before the clinic opens. When farmer and physician awake, they will join in, contributing mightily, but only because God came first. Likewise, God has been working on and in them, body and mind, while they slept; yesterday’s bruises and slights have begun to heal… morning becomes a time to join in the labors that have already begun without us, and evening a time to let others - and Another - take over."

Her words helped me sleep better as I surrendered to the God who was at work, to the God who wanted me to rest so that I could then join him in the work when the sun rose.

I also realized I was more able to live day to day in God’s rhythms when I gathered each week in Christian community. Weekly worship is a reminder that all that we have and all that we are stems from the heart of God. It is a reminder that we are not alone, but surrounded in a community of prayer and support, as we do things hard things, set bedtimes, and create rhythms that bring life.

*Find the daily Lent calendar here; or for the Lent calendar more specific to Ascension Lutheran Church, go here.

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