A Theology of Sleep (Part Three)
This is the third and final part of “A Theology of Sleep.” It’s a bit more practical than the last couple posts. Even so, it’s heavy on principle. I can’t seem to avoid seeing principles behind the most practical of things. Remember that it was written for those living and ministering in college dorms. If you have other practical tips about the issue, please comment.
1. Fight to have pure motives when you think about how much or how little sleep to get. It is not inherently noble to get less sleep than your body needs (i.e., it is not inherently noble to be tired). At the same time, you are not necessarily a wise, mature Christian because you “get as much sleep as you need.”
2. Monitor your body and how much sleep you need. As humans, we’re generally the same, but specifically different. Don’t try to get the amount of sleep that someone else needs. Pay attention to your physical condition (not as an idol, but as an instrument). Jonathan Edwards (in the 1700’s!) monitored how various foods affected his body and his state of mind so that he could be more effective in his calling. You might say, “That’s a bit crazy.” I would say, “Jonathan Edwards changed the world.” And if you want to change the world, you’re going to have to be a bit crazy.
3. Brace yourself for the rest of life by reminding yourself that the tension in this issue will remain. Even if you do determine the exact amount of sleep that your body needs in order to function at optimal performance, you will never be able to get that amount of sleep consistently. And even if you could, sometimes you’d sleep better, and sometimes worse. There will also be seasons in life when the Lord calls you to get more sleep or less sleep (having an infant; a pointedly difficult semester; being a mother; having am unpredicted tough week at work along with a Sunday School lesson to prepare; trips to the emergency room; late-night, spontaneous ministry; etc.). Walk through each season with joy.
4. Try and plan to get good, consistent sleep (e.g., ear plugs, consistent bedtime and wake-up time, quiet room, bedtime patterns, etc.). Part of wisdom and foresight is cultivating profitable habits. It’s virtually impossible for me to get consistent sleep because of the nature of resident dorm ministry. It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try as hard as I can, though. Patterns help. They channel your life towards consistency, which, if not held with legalistic rigidness, is a very godly and valid pursuit.
5. Don’t feel guilty about sleeping! If you’re a sluggard, be convicted and ashamed. But if you decide to go to sleep at a decent hour after a full day and there are not vital things that you need to do or pressing needs that you need to take care of, go to sleep peacefully. God designed you to need sleep. Don’t argue with Michelangelo about the colors he used in the Sistine Chapel, and don’t argue with God about His master architecture of the human body.
6. It is not inherently selfish to ask someone to be quiet so that you can sleep (see Prov 27:14). Proverbs 27:14 is one of the funniest verses in Scripture: He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, / It will be reckoned a curse to him. My wife and I live in a dorm of seventy-five guys. If we didn’t ask some of the guys (particularly the ones who live above us from year to year) to be quiet every now and then, we would definitely get less sleep than we do. I used to struggle with feeling selfish because I was asking them to be quiet. But I have since learned that it’s a wise and practical request, and can be made graciously. The point of Proverbs 27:14 is that even a loved friend who comes to speak good news and blessing will provoke his sleeping friend. Good activities at bad times are bad activities. I love happy hooting and hollering in the dorm, but not at midnight. And that’s ok.
7. Beware of loveless sacrifices (1 Cor 13:3). You can have a late-night emergency conversation with a desperate friend, only get three hours of sleep that night, and greatly dishonor the Lord. How? By making your sleep-sacrifice a loveless sacrifice. To the extent that you pity yourself when you give up sleep to be a faithful steward or to serve others, to that same extent is your sacrifice worthless in the sight of God. Beware of loveless sacrifices. Let all your sleeplessness flow from compassion and love and faithfulness, not from self-congratulatory giving.
Finally, Isaiah 40:28-31 is a beautiful verse that speaks well of fatigue and tiredness, of strength and perseverance, of peace and rest:
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.