In any school, especially graduate school—including seminary—one of its greatest costs is to one’s sleep. At least, I know that’s the case for me. I spent most of my adult schooling years with an average nightly sleep duration of 4 to 6 hours. And let’s be honest, for most of us that find ourselves staying up late, it’s often not that we’re doing school the entire time. Sometimes we’re trying to recover from the school work we’ve already finished, or maybe further putting off the work we’ve yet to do.
It’s not that I can’t fall asleep, mind you. It’s the getting to bed part that keeps getting to me. I find myself staying up way too late (usually watching TV) until I can barely function, and then falling into my bed–unconscious even before my head hits the pillow. I then struggle to wake up and don’t end up having time and energy to live my day and engage my studies in the way I’d hope.
But I want to propose (to both the reader and myself) that sleep is just as integral to your time and formation in seminary. And no, not just for practical reasons. It goes deeper.
Sleep is natural. There’s a great RadioLab episode on sleep (if you don’t know what this show is, then you’re really missing out). It talked about how sleep is one of the most puzzling and inexplicable of behaviors that creatures do. Scientists have no idea why we do it. You would think that natural selection would work to get rid of sleep (as predators could kill you), but alas, our beds have been stronger than the “invisible hand” of evolution.
But sleep is an incredibly spiritual act as well. God has invaded many a dream in the Bible and in my own life. He has visited many people as they are in the process of falling asleep. The apostle Paul uses sleep as an image of rest for the Christian. He seems to refresh our souls and renew his grace as we sleep.
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)
So why the heck do we stay up so late? I honestly think the root may be more spiritual than anything else. Psalm 121:4 says: “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Humans sleep, God does not, and the world still turns. I don’t like to be reminded that God is what I am not, and I can fancy a guess that you don’t either.
If you think about it, sleep is one of the most humbling things we ever do. No matter who you are in history- no matter how powerful, wise, or strong you are – you must and will bend your knee and surrender your consciousness to a power greater than your own with no promise of waking up, else you will die.
Sleep makes us slow down and actually listen to God. Psalm 63:5-6: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” In this case, sleep (or trying to get there) leads the writer to meditate upon God and experience a sweet satisfaction in his longing for Him (see vv. 1-5).
I see in myself this tendency to stay up as late as possible until I am tired enough to fall asleep immediately. And my concern for both myself and the other kindred seminarians out there is that we are missing a very real place that God wants to meet us.
Seminary is about a whole lot more than facts about the theology and Scripture. It’s about being shaped and formed into a steward of those things. Sleep doesn’t just serve the practical function of making us more awake to do our studies, but it serves as another classroom for God to each us and speak to us deep truths about Himself and ourselves. And that is certainly one class we don’t want to skip.
Therefore may we not take the path of folly and avoid the quiet place God has prepared for us to meet him free of anxieties; the place to bathe in the love and rest of our loving Father with a clear conscience, knowing He is who He says He is and that we are who He says we are – both of which can be our greatest joy and ultimate satisfaction. Sweet dreams.