A college professor at my faith-based liberal arts university used to make a bold declaration.
“The greatest spiritual need on this campus,” he would state, “is sleep.”
Every semester he saw the same thing. A student would come to his office for a meeting feeling discouraged or depressed, defeated or frustrated, struggling. Whether it was addiction or relationship problems or academic anxiety, the student would spill out their woes for a few minutes until he gently interrupted.
“How much sleep did you get last night?” he would ask. Their faces surprised, students gave answers that revealed a pattern. Four hours. Three hours. Five hours. “How much the night before last? Last week? What did you do over the weekend?”
Soon, a picture would emerge. Attempting to operate on three or four hours of sleep a night, students began making poor decisions, finding their tolerance or resistance low, their emotions unpredictable. And often, they looked first to emotional or psychological or spiritual factors before taking into account one very practical influence.
So instead of telling them to pray harder or switch majors or break up with their significant other, Dr. Keith Drury would tell them to go take a nap. And then to start going to bed earlier.
Sound familiar, Church?
Are you feeling discouraged?
Is everything a struggle?
Church members, small group leaders, pastors – how long did you sleep last night? The night before? Last week?
Do you wrestle with hidden addiction – alcohol, porn, eating disorders, binge shopping, prescription pills? (PS – it won’t stay hidden forever, as we’ve relearned the past few weeks.)
You may scoff. Maybe your ego won’t let you consider being or appearing less productive (why is productivity a god in our culture?). Maybe your feelings of insecurity won’t let you put away Pinterest ideas for creative cupcakes you’re taking to a bake sale hosted by a snide woman. Maybe your auto-pilot won’t let you question how healthy it is to let your kids sign up for so many extracurriculars.
Recently I half-jokingly commented to a friend that I felt holier.
My husband had traveled out of town for a while and the absence of my beloved epic squirmer resulted in the best nights’ sleep I’d had in years. I noticed I had more patience with the kids. I was making better lifestyle decisions. I was more sensitive to the pushes and pulls of the Holy Spirit. I noticed feeling more free to be intentional.
The truth is that all the dark circle correcter in the world won’t erase bad decisions, broken relationships, and vanished months and years. Besides knowing that sleep deprivation leads to more obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, slower reaction time, less creative thinking and poor immune systems (30% of adults get six hours of sleep a night or less – and getting less than six hours of sleep a night makes you four times as likely to catch a cold), we might also ask how many church board conflicts, 15-passenger van accidents, extramarital affairs, social networking snark, and small group meltdowns are influenced by what, according to one wise college professor, is the greatest spiritual need on any given college campus.
“Jesus was inside the boat, sleeping with his head on a pillow. The followers went and woke him. They said, ‘Teacher, don’t you care about us? We are going to drown!’
Jesus stood up and gave a command to the wind and the water. He said, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind stopped, and the lake became calm.
He said to his followers, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?'”
You can choose to be like an alert disciple, panicking and awake.
Or you can choose to be like Jesus, and go take a nap, ready to face the storm with calm and clarity and authority.
Or are you better than Jesus?