Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,/ Chief nourisher in life’s feast. – Macbeth
We all know that sleep is a physical need, but I think that few of us realize that sleep is just as much a spiritual necessity. When we sleep, we not only allow our bodies to regenerate, but we also allow our souls to rest. Sleep has spiritual value.
Scripture confirms the fact that God often does important things during sleep. For example, in Genesis 2, God made Eve after placing Adam into a deep sleep. In Genesis 15, God make’s his covenant with Abram while he is in a deep sleep. On numerous occasions, from Jacob to St. Joseph, God spoke through dreams to people in their sleep. The greatest work of God, the salvation of mankind, took place in and through the “sleep” of Christ upon the cross and in the tomb.
Throughout Scripture and Western literature, sleep has been compared often to death, and when you stop to think about it, the similarity between the two is indeed striking. Every night, when we lie down to sleep, we become, in a way, dead to all that is around us. We lose consciousness and we give up our power to react immediately to whatever may happen. We also give up our ability to work and to make money, so perhaps this is why so many of us avoid sleep or consider it, at best, as a necessary inconvenience.
Sleep does not fit with the self-image that many of us have, especially those of us with Type-A personalities who yearn for success. We hate to be out-of-control, so we deprive ourselves of sleep and strive to be like Tim Cook (CEO of Apple) or Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) who apparently do just fine with only 4 – 5 hours of sleep a night.
While there is in fact a very small portion of humanity (1 – 3% of the population) who actually can function on only four hours of sleep a night, the rest of us need to accept the reality that we need 7 – 9 hours a night, and this is not a bad thing. In fact, our need for sleep is an opportunity for spiritual growth. Here is what I mean.
When we allow ourselves the sleep that we need, we accept the fact that we cannot always be in control. This simple admission of truth is the pre-condition for a deeper spiritual act: ceding control to God and abandoning ourselves to His Divine Providence. We can turn the simple act of going to bed into a moment of trust by saying a repeating the prayer of Jesus Christ on the cross, before he entered the sleep of death: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) By doing this, we make our acceptance of the physical needs of our bodies coincide with an acceptance of our dependence upon God. The more we do this, the more we grow in trust, a virtue that is indispensable for growing in union with God.
When we trust in God, we give Him the freedom He needs to do great things in our lives. Just as He created Eve for Adam as he slept, so will He do great things for us when we accept our personal limitations and trust completely in Him. The fact is that sometimes the best way to accept your personal limitations and trust in God is simply to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep.
Try it out: the next time you are exhausted but feel the need to keep working, resist the temptation to be Superman. Put everything into God’s hands, sleep on it, and try again the next day. You will be surprised out how much more effective you will be.