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The Gift of Sleep

Last Tuesday I took a bus, a plane, and then a rental car to reach some meetings with colleagues at a gorgeous lake house. Up at 4am to catch my bus to Newark, I was beat by the time we finally arrived at the meetings twelve hours later.

After working a bit and lingering over dinner, it was time for our spiritual retreat. I long for these times of silence and solitude with God and have trouble fitting them into my regular routine. So my expectations were pretty high. Our leader introduced scripture and questions for reflection and set us free for time alone. But it was 9pm. I could barely keep my eyes open, much less reflect or pray.

I decided an early bedtime was in order, complete with 5am wake up so that I’d still have many hours before we gathered back at 11am the next day. The comfy bed swallowed me up. The room was dark and quiet. I was asleep in less than five minutes.

But I did not spring up at 5am. I slept. And slept. And slept. The alarm went off repeatedly and still I slept. I haven’t slept that deeply in a while.

When I finally rose at 8am, I felt like a million bucks. My normal reaction to missing three full hours of my short retreat would be guilt. Why am I so lazy? What will others think of me? I’m so unspiritual to sleep away my time with God! What is wrong with me?

But instead of this typical response, I felt grateful. Sleep was a gift. Away from the normal morning routine of packing lunches and corralling kids, I had the luxury to sleep and sleep. Instead of berating myself, I remembered the verse: “The Lord grants sleep to those he loves.”

This luxury of deep, long sleep reminded me that I am a creature, created by God with limits. I don’t always remember this and even when I do, I don’t live it out. My propensity is to cram more and more in, forgetting that as an embodied creature, I need fuel in the form of sleep and healthy food to keep going. I can’t be as present to God when I’m wiped out.

God met me during my retreat. I was rested and grateful for the gift of sleep. I turned to Psalm 127 to read the verse in context and here’s what I found:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.

In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

In vain I cram more and more in, anxiously working to control my life. Unless the Lord builds my house and watches over me, I labor in vain. Instead of toiling on my own, I want to rest in his care and love, relishing the gift of sleep.

Anna Moseley Gissing

Anna Moseley Gissing is Associate Academic Editor of InterVarsity Press. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and her writing has been published in Let us Keep the Feast and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids, and she aspires to more reading, more writing, and more patience.

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