Sunday, April 10, 2011

Of Sheets

In designing my rule, I was faced with a difficult first step: what could I design that would be important to my spiritual life in and of itself? I know me well enough to know that any rule I devise for its sake alone (simply to live under discipline) would fail. I'd at some point say, Well, I made it, I can break it, and it doesn't matter anyway. I needed to discover an order I could impose on parts of my life that make sense with who I am, who God is, and that would bring that me closer to that Him.

I keep an hour of adoration every Thursday morning at 1am, and I thought to work on my rule there, right before the Lord Himself.

I first listed all of my ordinary daily activities: eat, sleep, dress, parent, teach, learn, etc. Some I marked as public (like teach, or lead) and some I marked as private (like eat, or read.) I scratched the public activities off because my rule must at this stage not tempt me to pride---I need to be doing things no one can see but me and God. I marked the remainder as being secondary or basic---that left three: Eat, Sleep, and Dress. So far, so good.

My next hurdle was in deciding what pace I would keep. Again, I know myself, and I'm out here in the world with no accountability, no one watching me and helping me like I would find if I lived full-time in the monastery. So I have to go slow. What baby step could I take in each of these areas that would draw me closer to God, make sense beyond mere discipline, and be private?

Sleep seemed confusing to me at first, and a bit daunting. Scripture is full of admonitions against sloth. The saints frequently went without sleep for prayer and good works. But is sleep itself bad? Of course not! God made me to need sleep. Unfortunately, I sleep poorly. My sleep problems range from utter insomnia to days of excessive sleepiness. Both problems rob me of energy, mess up my eating habits, and leave me irritable and impaired---not a great combination for spiritual growth.

So I looked to the Rule. The monks are to sleep a reasonable amount each night---about 8 hours, in fact. So St. Benedict himself saw nothing "unholy" in a good night's sleep. So should I just ensure I get 8 hours? That hardly seems a discipline. Finally, I turned to Scripture and found the "whys" of sleep that I need to stick to a plan for my rest.

The Psalmist tells us we are to rise before the sun to give thanks and homage to God.

That makes a world of sense. When I rise "before the sun" I'm up in hours that have no real usefulness in the world. I'm up for one reason only, and that is to focus on God. And the timing is right: before I take on the troubles, cares, and distractions of the world, I need to center my soul on God, hear what He has to say to guide me, and start from there for the rest of my day. But getting up before the sun can mean one thing now, and another thing later, when I'm ready to deepen my commitment.

I decided to set my initial rising time at 5 am in the summer and fall months, and at 6 am during the spring and winter. That's earlier than I need to rise, so it's a discipline; it's not so early that I'll be sleep-deprived, or cause a disturbance for my family.

Interestingly, as I considered the changes I'd have to make, I realized that the hardest part for me wouldn't be in the morning, but in the evening when I need to turn in by 9 or 10 to get enough rest. I'm a natural night owl, and this would mean I'm going to bed a full 2-4 hours before I'd naturally choose. So the greatest discipline for me will be my schedule in the evening hours. I have to do that because, if I consider my rising time as the immovable lighthouse, I'll be exhausted pretty quickly if I don't turn in early.

That brings me to one of the more surprising realizations I had about sleep in the economy of God: it's not for me that I sleep, but for God. Only by getting sufficient rest will I be well-prepared to do His work in my family, classes, and job. So getting enough rest is something my family, coworkers, and God Himself, have a right to expect from me.

Tomorrow I'll address what I've learned about the next area of discipline: eating.