It is telling that something so simple- lay down your weapons, lay down your tools, lay down your books, lay down, lay down- is so very hard.
When I am resting well- sleeping well- I am at peace. When I do not, a fog stealthily descends, and before I know it, I am lost. Depression nips at my heels, I stumble over decisions that should be so very simple, and most telling, I rarely know where I am, for the fog has grown so thick that I can barely see my hand in front of my face. I am given up to tears for the addled frustration I feel. When the simplest thing I could possibly do is to find a quiet spot and rest, I instead continue to run, becoming more bruised and battered with each passing moment.
Somewhere, the lines got so very crossed. There are always seasons. Seasons when one has a newborn baby, for example. Seasons where a spouse is very ill. Seasons where a new idea, a new venture is taking off and needs a late night infusion or three as it gets ready to soar. Seasons where life gets intense, a confluence of things coming together. But they are seasons. We are not supposed to go for long, extended periods of time when we aren’t getting proper sleep. Our bodies aren’t made that way. And yet so many of us do.
Committing to sleep means we have to commit to letting go. To let go is to admit we don’t have control over the outcomes, and that is a very difficult place to be for many of us. Sleep has always been and always will be a surrender.
It is an incredibly hard thing to stop to rest when everything feels like it is spinning out of control, and yet is exactly the thing we most need to do. I’ve confused this many times over the years and now in order to live most fully and truthfully within my life, I know I have to keep a careful eye on not only how I am sleeping but how I am thinking about resting and sleeping.
It is so difficult to leave things undone, but that is exactly what sleep beckons us to do. So many times when I’ve been long past exhausted and should have been asleep hours ago, I see the piles of clean laundry strewn across my couch, the staggering tower of dirty dishes in the sink, the clearly visible bits of crunch and dirt on my floors, the relative state of undone-ness of my home, and the voices in my head are so very loud that I must finish this- I am not a good mother, a good wife- if this lies unfinished. So many times have I crawled into bed and my mind begins to circle and accuse- did you do this, why did you say that, did you, could you, you should, you failed, you can’t, you left this undone and I am going to remind you of it endlessly- spin and spin and spin and suddenly it is three in the morning. Sleep is elusive.
In order to truly rest I have to let go of it all. My need for control. My desire to be good. My fear of being called lazy or a failure. The misguided illusion that if I could manage to stay awake, I could somehow wrench things into some semblance of order.
Perhaps worse, sometimes our fear of being vulnerable means that we keep running so that we don’t have to face it. “I’ve always been a night owl,” we say, as the minutes and hours creep far into the night and we do anything to stay awake- another tv show, another click, another swipe, anything to distract us from the gnawing aching fear that will greet us as soon as we crawl into bed. Meanwhile our sleep becomes more and more disordered.
We’re not meant to live like that. When we are wandering sleepless, that is when we most need the perspective that Wendell Berry describes- a vision of the world beyond, above, outside of us. It is easy to convince yourself that the go is wildly important and worth your sacrifice when you are wrapped up in a world that marches sleepless right next to you. It’s a lot harder to believe the go should be so endless when you step outside of the hamster wheel and realize that there is solid ground.
Above all, it requires trust.
“Cheered by the presence of God, I will do at each moment, without anxiety, according to the strength which He shall give me, the work that His Providence assigns me. I will leave the rest without concern; it is not my affair. I ought to consider the duty to which I am called each day, as work that God has given me to do, and to apply myself to it in a manner worthy of his glory, that is to say, with exactness and peace.”
– Francois de La Mothe Fenelon
This is seventh in the series. Begin the journey here.