A few years ago my doctor quizzed me on how many hours of sleep I was getting. She said she was convinced sleep was more important than we realize for staying healthy. I probably said something glib about “8 hours,” though it was more like six. I began to notice, though, that I didn’t function well without regular rest. Everything from aches and pains to anxiety to the common cold—basically all that stuff that affects our bodies in stressful seasons—seems connected to rest or the lack thereof. I also learned something fascinating:
Rest is a gift of grace that God designed for us to enjoy. We can choose to unwrap the gift or not, but our lives function much better when we do.
From the beginning chapter of the Bible, we find this phrase: “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5). The same phrasing repeats for each day of the creation narrative, and then, the evening/morning rhythm shows up throughout the Old and New Testament, where we find new days being counted from one sundown to the next.
Not at ALL how we typical Americans count our days.
Why does that matter? I like how Eugene Peterson characterizes the difference in his book Working the Angles (Eerdman 1993, p67-8):
“American days, most of them anyway, begin with an alarm clock ripping the predawn darkness, and they close, not with evening, but several hours past that, when we turn off the electric lights. In conventional references to day we do not include the night hours except for the two or three that we steal from either end to give us more time to work…. The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace. We go to sleep, and God begins his work.”
Sleep is not wasted time. It’s not an obligatory chore, nor just a guilty pleasure. Prioritizing proper rest means I’ve chosen to open a gift from God. When I sleep, I place myself in the care and keeping of the God who never sleeps. Going to bed at a decent time affirms that I trust Him to start the new day His way without any help from me so that when I awaken, I can join Him in His plans.
Makes me want to buy a throw pillow that says, “Embrace the Grace. Go to Sleep.”
Do I have a hard and fast rule about sleep? Perhaps something like, Thou Shalt Sleep Eight Hours and the Number of Thy Sleeping Shall Be Eight? (By the way, anyone that just thought of Monty Python, you are my friend.)
To become legalistic about sleep is a pretty poor way to enjoy a gift of grace. However, I am working toward better rest and not feeling guilty when I call it a night so I’ll have more energy and clearer thinking in the morning. I’ve worked with my doctor to treat a sleep disorder. I’ve tried to limit simple carbs and caffeine so that I sleep sounder. I also avoid blue LED light from my phone or computer before bed since it may disrupt the body’s natural sleep cycle.
Stress reduction has been important, too. Two big helps have been exercising and putting into practice another rest-oriented gift from God. At the completion of creation, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). While the seventh day (“Sabbath”) later became part of God’s law to the Israelites, Jesus clarifies that the Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way around (see Mark 2:27). In other words, God graced us with time for recharging and reconnecting with Him—a seventh of the week set apart for renewal. It was part of the rhythm of rest from the start.
How I’ve opened the gift of Sabbath has expanded over time. As an introvert who serves frequently at church, I don’t always find the busyness of typical Sunday mornings restful, though this is the time many Christians associate with the concept of Sabbath. Even on weeks when I’m not officially helping with something, I’m looking out for new people to welcome or friends that need prayer and encouragement. I love all those connections, but it is work–even more so for my friends who are pastors, worship leaders, and youth ministers. I dearly love corporate worship and my community, but I’ve found that Sabbath-keeping requires something more.
That’s why I block off chunks of time over the weekend or on Monday morning to take a long nap, to get outside and enjoy nature, to read a good book, and to laugh with my husband and kids. I need time to dawdle and daydream. I need to disconnect from the wider world so I can reconnect with my own soul and with God.
I encourage you, then, to take a look at your rest, even in this busiest of seasons–not because you need to heap on more guilt at one more thing you aren’t accomplishing, but because God is extending it to you as a gift. When we open the gift of rest, we start to remember that as God’s children we are defined not by what we accomplish but by his great love for us. That’s a gift that truly revives a weary soul.
How will you open the gift of rest this season? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments or at my Facebook page @cassiaglassbooks.
Picture credit Freestocks as Unsplash.