The spiritual life is not an Instant Pot. It is in fact, as my spiritual director says, the slowest form of personal transformation. But how are we transformed? What connects the things we know about God to actually knowing God? How do we access a spacious life when our emotions are in shambles, or we’ve lost a child, or our neighbors are hurting?
We follow in the ancient paths—the daily and weekly habits that keep the household of faith running and thriving. These mundane acts of spiritual housekeeping—things like prayer, corporate worship, church community, Scripture reading, and care for our neighbor—connect us to God and each other, creating thick communities. The movement of spiritual transformation is slow, imperceptible at times, and yet when crisis hits, we will find we have a home in which to shelter. We’ve done the laundry of our souls, so to speak, so we have some clean socks to wear. The invitation to rest is where we begin.
The invitation to rest is two-pronged: it is an invitation to heed the limits of our bodies (to slow down, rest, and sleep) and to reorient ourselves toward God as dependent children instead of productive machines (ceasing from work, practicing sabbath).
When we choose sleep, we rest in our limitations as created beings. When we sleep, we admit our limits: we are needy creatures. We exist within the bookends of God’s own creation and care. Our joyful response is to sleep. The order of the universe is always grace first: we receive first and then we work in response to the rest and care we’ve been given. We do not work for rest or in order to earn our rest. We start with rest.
We accept that we are incapable of doing for ourselves what sleep provides. Through sleep our brains, muscles, and hormones function better; our cells are repaired; our energy is conserved. But sleep is not simply useful in the increased health and productivity it provides—a means to further self-centered work. Sleep is a gift.
Sleep is a sort of mini-sabbath where we accept our bodily limits and embrace our humanity. Sleeping replenishes more than our physical bodies: sleep “is a declaration of trust. It is admitting that we are not God (who never sleeps), and that is good news.”
What allows Jesus to sleep in the midst of chaos? The only times we hear the audible voice of God the Father in the New Testament he is saying the same thing about Jesus: This is my boy. He is loved. I’m so proud of him. Listen to him. As Jesus comes up from the waters of baptism, before he had healed, or taught, or done anything remarkable, Jesus received the blessing of his Father simply for being his. His identity as son informs his work and worship. It is from that union with the Father that the whole life of Christ turns. Healing, wisdom, cutting words of truth, and the kind touch of compassion all flow from Jesus’ union with the Father. This is what informs his sleep.
Jesus sleeps because he needs to, and he sleeps because he has nothing to prove.
How about you? Sleep may be the first spiritual discipline we can do to practically place ourselves in a position of being a son or daughter of God. It is those who eat the “bread of anxious toil” who neglect sleep, who need to keep working to be worthy (Ps 127:2).
But how do overwork and hustle bar us from rest? It’s easy to chastise the guy in the corner office or on a political drama for working too much, but what about us? Do we schedule too many meetings, church small groups, kids’ activities, mercy ministry opportunities, so that we’ve made ourselves indispensable to God’s work in the world? Rest isn’t just about sleep, even when we’ve pushed ourselves past our limits. Rest is also about choosing to cease from overwork, and on one day a week to rest from our labors, placing ourselves into the sustaining hands of our Maker.
Rest is the bodily antidote to hurry and hustle. We are given agency, stewardship, and the blessing of partnering with God in the work he’s already doing, but when our workaholism turns these good things into identity markers, we are not heeding God’s invitation to rest. Resting from our work at appropriate times in the day and in a weekly Sabbath shifts the balance. We are recipients of God’s care, not the sole purveyors of it.
Our workaholism and distraction show our little faith. Yet Jesus does not shame his disciples for being “littlefaiths.” He comes to their aid, and ours, whether our faith is great or small.
It is not the strength of our faith that gets Jesus to act. He acts according to his own nature: he brings order from chaos; he is Lord of all. We are invited to cover ourselves with his power, name our own limitations, and find rest in them.
Cover image by Hayley Seibel.
Adapted from A Spacious Life by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2021 by Ashley Hales . Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com