Lessons I’m learning in 2016. #1 – Sleep and Rest

Monday was my 60th birthday and it was more than just a great day.  It was an awakening.  The day unfolded differently than I’d anticipated.  Early rising, intense exercise, and solitude were the anticipated words of the day because these are things that, for most of my life, I’ve assumed to be life giving and energizing.  They’re the things I usually choose, or have been prone to choose.

I don’t know if it’s the 60 thing, or some other winds of change blowing through the soul these days, but this birthday unfolded completely differently, so this post and the next two are devoted to the three things I did differently on my birthday, things I’ve now elevated to goals for 2016.

First Thing:  Instead of early rising, sleep.  My wife and I walk with the neighbors most mornings at 7am, and I try to fit in coffee, Bible reading, and meditation prior to the walk, which means a 6am wake up call, or even earlier.  But on Monday the alarm went off and I didn’t want to get out of bed.  Then some dialogue started happening in my head as I lay there listening to my wife’s deep, rhythmic breathing.

Me: “You should get up.  That’s what productive people do.  You know those verses about the ant and the sluggard in Proverbs right?  ‘A little sleep, a little slumber… and poverty will come upon you!…’

Other Me “Yeah I know, but it’s my birthday.  It would be fun to try and sleep in, to try being a relaxed type B person for a day, maybe even type C”

Me: “That’s a slippery slope you’re on there.  Today it’s your birthday.  Tomorrow it’s too cold.  Then it’s a habit.  Then you’re fat, and broke, and dead.  If that’s what you want… sleep in”

Other Me:  “Can you shut up just for a day, please?  I’m tired of intensity, tired of being driven, especially by you and your insecure compulsions.  Lighten up.”

Me: “I will not lighten up.   Vigilance is how things happen, good things, productive things, necessary… necess… nvdlese….nsssz

Other Me: “zzzzzzzzzz”

And that was that. I didn’t wake until my wife returned from walking with the neighbors!  This is a small victory for sleep, and it’s actually a good thing.  In a recent favorite read, Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-being I learned that one of the best things we can do for our creativity, productivity, and health of both soul and body, is to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.  This is very different than the way I’ve thought, which is, “think how much more writing, exercise, thinking, working, and living you can do if you get up early?”

In point of fact, our sleep-less-ness is tied to our beating back the night through electricity.  I know this because we were without power for four days during the Christmas season, and this meant that around 3 in the afternoon we’d sense the darkness coming on, and make sure our candles were at the ready.  They were great to sustain conversation, but not good enough for reading.  Plus, we’d powered down our media except for acute events, such as texts from work or daily checking of email.

People said to me, “Get a generator” but I said back, “Nope.  These days, hard as they’ve been, have opened my eyes to the possibility of rest.”  That’s because we’d go to bed long before nine on most nights.  “A long winter’s nap” as they say; and I woke refreshed.

Sleeping in set the stage for a great birthday, and since then I’ve been shooting for 8 hours of sleep.  Truth be told, I’m landing between 6 1/2 and 7 1/2, but still, it’s progress.   It’s counter-intuitive, because there’s a part of me that’s driven.  But as I lean into this call to rest, I find myself aligning to the rhythm of restoration that’s woven into all of creation, and the restoration that comes through the gift of sleep means more creativity, more capacity to be present, and just a general sense that life is closer to God’s shalom than it ever is when I’m anxious about staying in bed too long.

Welcome 60!  Thank you for banishing my fear of sleep, and finally giving me the courage to believe I’m not lazy.  Good night now… see you in 8 (OK, 7) hours!” 

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