All those time-saving, simplicity-seeking devices somehow have backfired on us; they’ve loaded us up with many more new ways to complicate our lives. Add to that the general trend toward longer working hours most Americans have experienced in recent years and you have a recipe for stimulus overload and chronic fatigue.
And yet studies tell us what we know intuitively: Americans are getting less sleep than ever. There is less rest for a more weary nation.
This space on Saturdays usually deals with religious and faith matters as they relate to public issues or everyday life. What have busy lives and lack of sleep got to do with that?
A lot, actually.
Spiritual health, no less than physical health, requires rest, reflection and renewal. In the sensory bombardment that now makes up so much of our lives, the voice of God can get drowned out. We surrender ourselves not to God but to the relentless, mind-numbing, spiritually-sapping pace of modern, techno-saturated life. And we’re worn out, spiritually and physically.
Sleep is the great restorer, and it is also spiritual in a sense. It is a giving up of the control we seek over ourselves and others when we are awake. It is also an act of faith.
“(Sleep) is a surrender, a laying down of arms,” writes the Christian author and theologian Frederick Buechner. “Whatever plans you’re making, whatever pleasures you’re enjoying, whatever sorrows or anxieties or problems you’re in the midst of, you set them aside, find a place to stretch out somewhere, close your eyes, and wait for sleep...
“You have given up being in charge of your life. You have put yourself into the hands of the night.”
That sleep is a temporary surrender of control is one of the reasons so many of us choose to have so little of it these days. There is work to be done, after all, things to be accomplished, entertainments to be enjoyed – sleep keeps us from these preoccupations.
But isn’t it telling that so many times in the Bible, God speaks to people while they are asleep, revealing to them in dreams his plans and his purposes.
Sometimes we are able to let God in only when we set aside our “the constant moving around, the yammering will, the relentless or not so relentless purpose,” as Buechner puts it. We literally have to lie down to release ourselves from our willfulness.
We may not be conscious of it when we’re asleep, but God rests in us and with us, and we find refreshment. We have abandoned ourselves totally to his care.
“It is a rehearsal for the final laying down of arms, of course,” writes Buechner, “when you trust yourself to the same unseen benevolence to see you through the dark and to wake you when the time comes – with new hope, new strength – into the return again of light.”