Between the Sheets: Sleeping as A Spiritual Practice

by Christine Sine

I will be heading out to Australia this afternoon but am hoping to continue posting while I travel.  The submissions continue to arrive which is wonderful and I am enjoying reading them before I post them.

This morning’s post is from Teri Peterson a presbyterian pastor who loves her new bed (which might have inspired this post).  She also likes cooking and used to live in Egypt.  She blogs at Clever Title Here

This is, of course, very obvious when you actually think about it, but I hadn’t stopped to think about it before and so was surprised:  we spend fully one-third of our lives sleeping.

One-third of our lives, spent in beds, sleeping bags, couches, chairs, floors, air mattresses…sleeping away time.

Sleep is, of course, extremely important—there’s a reason we are supposed to spend eight hours doing it every day.  That time we spend sleeping is time our bodies use to repair themselves, fend off disease, grow, and no doubt all kinds of other things that we can read about in science books and journals and blogs.  The trouble is, at least in the culture in which I find myself, that sleep looks extremely unproductive, and being unproductive is a cardinal sin.  One would think we were created for the purpose of making, doing, fixing, and all kinds of other action-related verbs, because the instant we engage in a passive-sounding verb like resting, sleeping, observing, or even praying, we are looked down upon as lazy, good-for-nothing time wasters.

Well, in the midst of a generation that has been accused of laziness more times than I can count—and yet works harder just to strive for (not reach) the standard of living passed on to us than any previous generation—I am here to say that we could use some downtime.  In fact, I’m even willing to go out on a limb and say that spending passive time, even wasting time, is good for us and is what God wants us to do sometimes.  Contrary to popular belief, “God helps those who helps themselves” is not in the Bible, but “remember the Sabbath day” is.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating for one day of every week spent sitting in a chair from sun-down to sun-down.  I’m not claiming that Friday or Saturday or Sunday should be devoid of anything that could be construed as work, whether walking, cooking, driving, eating out, or being creative.  Instead I’m saying that we were not created to work our lives away, and every day should have some downtime.

My personal favorite here is, of course, sleeping.  I love to sleep.  Eight hours seems like such a puny amount of time to spend doing something so wonderful, in a bed as comfortable as mine.  And while it looks like wasting time, it can actually be a useful spiritual practice, I promise!

Take just a moment and think to yourself:

when was the last time I tried to pray before bed and actually stayed awake until “amen”?

when was the last time I felt really focused and listened to what God had to say to me?

when was the last time I was able to clear my mind and just rest in God’s love?

If any of those questions made your eyes droopy just thinking about them, then between the sheets may be your best place for prayer.

Think about it—the meditation gurus, the yoga masters, the centering prayer experts, even the ministers out there are all telling us to “just let go,” “relax,” “be in the moment,” “empty yourself.”  Easier said than done, in my experience.  Even at the end of a yoga class, with the teacher reminding us every minute or so, “no thoughts—just breathing” I still find myself making lists, fretting about the time, or wondering if I’ve forgotten to do anything today.

But when we sleep, that’s exactly what we let go of—we truly have to “let go and let God,” in the words of that tired cliché.  Sometimes it’s very hard work.  Anxiety, stress, frustration, depression, excitement…all can be hard to let go of so we can just rest, but anyone who’s suffered from insomnia knows that sleep is welcome relief.  When we sleep, we clear our conscious mind and let the subconscious take over.  When we sleep, we are finally vulnerable and open enough for God to communicate.  Sometimes that happens through simply working out a problem and finding the answer obvious when we awake.  Sometimes it happens through dreams.  Sometimes it’s just a feeling, a nudge, an inkling.  But every time, every time we close our eyes and drift off, we allow ourselves to rest in the love of God, a love deeper and broader than we can possibly imagine. And that is exactly what prayer and meditation are all about—resting in the presence of the One who loves more than we can fathom, who is bigger than our imaginations or our rational minds.

I think we are good at making this more complicated than it really is, partially because it looks so unproductive.  Isn’t that the way with many spiritual practices?  Outwardly, they produce nothing and so are useless—so we have to make them sound very difficult in order to convince ourselves and others that they are important and valuable.  But the spiritual practice of sleep is not complicated, and yet is so valuable.

For me, it usually begins with reading, thinking, or trying to do something like what I imagine traditional prayer must be.   From there it’s not far to slip, to just rest in and with God.  I like to imagine holding myself in the light, imagine God holding me in the palm of God’s hand, imagine myself as part of a story from the Bible…and then slip into a blessed, holy nap.  Almost without even trying, I’ve given myself over to prayer and Sabbath-keeping in a way that can be healing for both body and your soul.

Happy sleeping.

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0 comment

Sam Bjorkman March 6, 2012 - 7:19 pm

Sir, I ask in humility only in fear that we may be led astray or lead others astray:
what Scripture is this based off of?
In Him

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