Speaking of spiritual disciplines in the Christian life, Henri Nouwen once said: “Discipline means the effort to create some space in which God can act.” Christian disciplines are not magic wands which force God to act in a certain way toward us, rather they are means by which we put ourselves in a posture of dependence and openness to God. As such, disciplines are acts of submission and humility, which recognize the limitations of our humanness and put us in a place of trusting receptivity to God’s good work of transformation.
Sabbath is a spiritual discipline, because it calls us to stop from our constant activity and to pay attention to the places where God is at work.
This fall, I am being blessed with a ministry sabbatical for three months. Like sabbath, a sabbatical is also a spiritual discipline, because it is an intentional stopping from my regular work of ministry, in order to create some space for God to carry out His work in me. Unlike sabbath, however, my sabbatical is not a time to cease all work, but only my regular pastoral duties. In that I must be careful, though, because I know my tendency is to replace one kind of work and stress with something equally busy and draining. Therefore one goal I am working on during this sabbatical is to re-establish better habits of productivity and sleep.
One of the books I am reading (for a class I’m taking at Talbot Seminary) is called Beloved Dust. In it, the authors speak of the freedom that comes from living within the limitations of our humanness. One of the primary limitations every human faces is that of time–we are creatures bound by time, and though we often try to live as if those bounds were not present, our lives function best when we embrace the reality that we cannot actually control time, nor can we do everything we desire.
Sleep is an excellent litmus test of our posture toward time. Often, we view sleep as superfluous–wasted space that can be used if we determine more time is needed to accomplish a certain task…. Embracing our call to be creatures entails embracing sleep as a fundamental aspect of our vocation…. In this sense, for many believers, sleep is a profound, spiritual practice reminding us on a daily basis of the truth of our identity as creatures. In sleep we are laying down our bodies as living sacrifices before the Lord (Rom. 12:1). This, too, can be an aspect of our worship of God. [pg. 31]
That is a very convicting reminder to me–if this sabbatical is truly going to be a time of “creating space” for God to work in me, then sleep is not just a necessary part of my humanity, but it is a vital part of growing in relationship with God.