Confession: I am sort of a huge insomniac. And so are several of the ladies who write for this blog. Chances are, if you are reading a blog post here on Holy Hen House, it was written between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight, after our squirrelly children finally slipped off to dream land. 11 p.m. is the average time we start frantically messaging each other for help. “This post is supposed to go up tomorrow and I can’t figure out how to add a picture to it!” “Grr...I keep hitting refresh and nothing’s happening!” “Ugh, why is our server going so SLOW?!” “Is anyone awake who can help me format this paragraph?” And inevitably, someone IS awake and able to help out at 11 p.m. Or midnight. Or even sometimes 2 a.m. It’s not like we all get to sleep in every morning either. We all have children to care for bright and early in the morning, jobs to attend, or projects to accomplish. So why in the world do we stay up so late?
I know that as a mother, one of the big reasons I often stay up so late is because evenings after my children go to bed are “me” time. I spend all day long caring for other people and I relish the time I have to myself to eat chocolate and not have to share it, watch non-G-rated television, or surf the internet without little hands pounding the keyboard. In the evenings, I am able to enjoy adult conversations (and other activities) with my husband, read books, or work on projects that can only be accomplished without tiny meddling fingers.
These are all nice, enjoyable, and seemingly well-deserved things, but I often binge on my “me” time to the point where I let my desire for it trump God’s command to care for myself and my family, and to connect with Him regularly through rest and spiritual renewal. What begins as a few hours of evening self indulgence too easily devolves into a 2 a.m. bedtime following “just one more episode” or “just finishing up this conversation.”
Ephesians 5:29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.
Mark 6:31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Other times I stay up late not because I want to, but because I believe I have to do so out of pure necessity. I am so busy, overbooked, and overworked that I virtually cannot accomplish all I set out to accomplish during the day. I am left toiling late into the evening believing my own effort is the only thread holding together the loose fabric of my life. I feel like if I fail to single-handedly accomplish my earthly goals, this thread will break and my life will fall apart. And so I “burn the midnight oil,” trusting not in God but in singlehandedly overcoming the limits of my human existence in order to “succeed in life.”
Non-surprisingly, I’m perpetually exhausted.
The Bible tells me there is such a thing as being too busy. So why do I continue to pile extra work on top of myself in order to achieve worldly ends like money or acclaim or admiration from others?
Psalm 127:2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Proverbs 23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.
Luke 10:40-42 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Sleep is a precious gift from God. Recognizing the importance of the human body’s need for rest and renewal, both physically and spiritually, God went out of his way to design the world to accommodate this need. We all know He created the world in six days and on the seventh day He rested. He did this in order to show us how to structure our own work week, devoting one day each week to spiritual rest and renewal:
Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
He did this out of love for us, enabling us to get some much needed spiritual rest, not because of His own needs or desires.
Mark 2:27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.
Even before God made the Sabbath, he designed another important feature of creation that enables us to rest.
Genesis 1:16-18 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
God gave us night time.
Darkness is a gift given to us by God to enable us to rest physically on a daily basis.
If you doubt the purpose of this gift, just take a look at the way God designed our bodies to react to darkness. The absence of light triggers the pineal gland to release a hormone called Melatonin. Melatonin plays a significant part in helping the body to become drowsy. In short, darkness makes us sleepy. When the sun goes down, human beings are meant to rest.
So many time I read the creation story and think, “Man! God thought of EVERYTHING when he made the world!” Darkness is one of those things I would have never considered if I were in charge of creating a universe. (Good thing I wasn't in charge, right?) Yet God set the balance of darkness and light so beautifully in motion that it ebbs and flows exactly to our benefit throughout the calendar year. In the summer when everyone is out and active and farmers are planting and harvesting, the sun illuminates our happy outdoor activities for long hours. In the winter, when nasty weather rages outside, people draw together indoors and conserve their energy. Isn’t it convenient that God provides us with so much darkness in which to sleep at the time of year we tend to be huddled indoors keeping warm and inactive anyway? (And yes, I realize those of you in Alaska or Arizona may not experience exactly the same type of marriage between weather and light. My solution for you? Move to Wisconsin. Har har har! I know. I’m hilarious).
The truth is, I blame my fatigue on the kids, motherhood, work, or on the busyness of life in general, but in truth a lot of my exhaustion occurs when I willingly and purposefully ignore the rhythm of night and day that God installed on the fourth day of creation for the benefit of physical rest for all of His creatures.
You see, as a modern day American, I don’t always see darkness as a blessing from God. I don’t appreciate the seasonal ebbs and flows of days and nights that God set into motion. I particularly don’t appreciate all the darkness I have to endure in the winter. It’s dark by 5 p.m. again? Ugh. Depressing. I tend to see darkness as an obstacle or hindrance that must be overcome with artificial lighting if I’m ever going to be a productive human being. And so when it gets dark I turn on all the lights, the tv, and my computer, and instead of turning to the Lord to see me through the night, I drown out the darkness with light and with noise. In my over-stimulated, loud, bright world, I don’t need rest. I don’t need quiet reflection. I don’t have to think much about taking care of myself, my family, or connecting with my Lord. Instead, I gorge upon passive entertainment, shallow accomplishments, earth-bound busyness, and idle conversations until I am not only physically exhausted, but spiritually burnt out. If I am constantly filling my ears and my eyes with sound and light to the point of exhaustion, how will I notice the Lord or hear Him when He speaks to me in a gentle whisper?
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
I know that staying up too late and sleeping too little is a problem of mine, and trust me, I have a loooooong list of excuses I use to justify this behavior, only a sampling of them mentioned so far. I have vowed to change my poor sleeping habits so many times, telling myself that tomorrow I’ll go to bed earlier or that I won’t stay up so late or that I’ll set an alarm and when it goes off I will get up and go to bed no matter what I’m doing. But none of that has worked for me, because all of it involves relying on myself and my own strength to overcome my poor relationship with physical and spiritual rest.
Last weekend I was thinking about this very problem of mine, feeling very tired, and I said a quick prayer that God would enable me to get more rest. How God would answer this prayer, I didn’t know, as I already knew that removing obligations or changing my life circumstances does little to alter my sleep patterns. I have been drowning my evenings in external stimulation since long before becoming a mother.
Shortly after I prayed for more rest, I noticed a friend posted an article to my facebook wall about bimodal human sleep patterns (humans sleeping “twice” per night), a topic we have discussed with interest recently. From there I found myself reading other articles about sleep and happened upon one on artificial light and its detrimental effects on human sleep patterns. A lightbulb went off *pun intended* and I decided I would try embracing the rhythm of light and darkness that God designed on the fourth day of creation. That night, around 7 p.m., after my kids were in bed, I turned off all the lights. By 7:30 p.m., I turned off my computer and all other distracting light sources. I then lit a candle and read my Bible by the light from the flickering flame. And as I meditated on God’s Word, a beautiful thing happened. I grew tired. I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. that night, and not begrudgingly out of a sense of forcing myself to go to bed earlier, but willingly, as I drifted into a cozy and serene state of comfortable drowsiness, having spent much needed relaxing time with my Savior.
Is this the way God intended human beings to go to sleep? Ending my day in the quiet darkness with prayer and meditation with my Lord certainly felt nicer than my typical method of keeping my starving brain alive through the evening on a steady diet of cat videos and internet memes.
I won’t pretend I've been forever rid of my compulsion to stay up late at night, but I can see that my need for physical sleep and my need for spiritual rest in Jesus can both be met in a beautifully complementary way. With God's help, I'll be striving to embrace the rhythms of day and night, darkness and light, activity and meditation, that God Himself designed.
Do you feel you receive enough physical and spiritual rest?