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“This is the way that life will be:
Limitless you put limits on me.
By your grace, help us see
This is your design.”
-Leah Smith

One of the most helpful spiritual disciplines ever suggested to me – and one to which I have recently refocused my attention – is sleep. This might not sound like a bona fide “spiritual discipline” like fasting or solitude, but isn't it? John Ortberg defines a spiritual discipline as “any activity that can help me gain power to live life as Jesus taught and modeled it.” And like him, “I have a very hard time thinking and feeling and acting like Jesus when I lack sleep.”

Yet sleep is so easy to neglect. For me, it’s the little choices that often add up to subtract from what could have been a good night's sleep. Many nights, I want to hang out just a little longer with Christie, or get just a little more done on whatever project I’m engrossed in, before heading to bed. (I promised myself I wouldn't fall into the sad irony of staying up too late working on this blog post, of all things.) Then once in bed, I want to stay up and read just one more chapter of whatever book I'm reading. And on the other end, I also want to wake up early to spend time with God before my day starts.

In the end, I find I cannot defy my God-given limitations without paying the costs somewhere. I know this is true for my daughters; I try hard to make sure they get enough sleep, because I know it will make the difference between a pleasant day of smiles and "no thank you's" and an irritable day of irrational tantrums. But here again, I have found myself to be essentially a twenty-nine year old toddler.

Over the past weeks, short on sleep, I have too often found myself impatient with my daughters, slow to forgive my wife, unfocused at work, and – the telltale sign for me that I've been too tired for too long – breaking a dish in the kitchen by dropping it out of sheer tired clumsiness. These things are a wake-up call – no pun intended – for me to pay attention to the question: am I living within my limits?

In his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted (which might sound like a bad self-help book, but is actually a very helpful little book on spiritual disciplines), Ortberg quotes Psalm 127:2:

“It is in vain that you rise up early
       and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
       for He gives sleep to His beloved.”

He comments that sleep “is an act of trust,” and I find that to be true on many levels. I must trust God to satisfy the longings of my soul, being grateful for the time I do have to relax, rather than grasping for that extra chapter of a book in hopes that it will satisfy me. I am called to trust God with my life’s work (job, kids, home, hobbies) and let my limitations remind me that, if I find myself with too much to fit into a day, the answer isn't to buy more hours by paying with sleep. Instead, I need to take a good hard look at my commitments and desires and ask God for wisdom on where to cut back.

These days I have a renewed gratefulness for sleep – for the extra emotional margin to handle toddler temper tantrums with grace and peace; for more alertness in my work; and perhaps most importantly, for the reminder that the true path to satisfaction lies within the good limits my God has set for me. I am grateful to serve (and be served by!) the God who commands us to rest – to Sabbath, to lie down in green pastures, to sleep.

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