I’ve always struggled with the ability to fall asleep. When I was younger I used to fight sleep as much as possible, because I didn’t want to miss a moment of life. I would wake up and sneak around the house because I felt there was so much life to experience and sleep was just a waste of time. This behavior isn’t abnormal for children, but they typically grow out of it as they get older. While technically, yes, I stopped fighting sleep simply because I didn’t want life to pass me by, my struggle of falling asleep continued into my teenage and eventually my adult years.
Ever since highschool, I’ve suffered from insomnia. The reasons why I’ve had insomnia have varied from year to year, but no matter the cause, the problem is still frustrating. And the frustration typically only adds to the lack of sleep I get - see the vicious cycle here?
A few summers ago, in-between my sophomore and junior year of college, I developed terrible insomnia matched with restlessness, hallucinations, heart palpitations, anxiety, and even depression. However, through that struggle, and the counsel of many individuals who were much wiser than I was at the time, I came to realize that even sleeping was an act of obedience to God. By not finding ways to improve my rest and actually developing bad sleeping habits because of it, I was choosing my own way of solving my sleeping problems rather than submitting my restlessness to God. By wallowing and writhing in my pity late at night instead of turning to Him to heal my anxiety and exhaustion, I was actually sinning.
Arriving at that truth wasn’t easy, nor was it simple common sense. Sleep seems like such an odd and silly thing to give to God, especially when it appears to be such an easy fix for us to take care of. But even God cares about how you choose to rest and He promises to help you in your struggles to find it. He said in Matthew 11:28-29, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” While this passage is specifically talking about turning to God in times of sorrow and pain, the same principle applies - God is our comforter and our rest. Without Him, we are hopeless.
Sometimes sleep is disrupted by more than just worry or bad sleep habits. Mental and physical illness play a role in taking away one’s sleep too, but no matter the reason why, again, Jesus is there to bring healing, comfort, and rest when we need it.
Here’s how I know that.
Jesus Slept in Submission to His Father
Why do we know, biblically, that sleep and rest matter to God and that they’re acts of worship to Him. We'll take this Bible story for example.
Most of us are familiar with the story in Mark 4:37-41 which says, “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Jesus and his disciples are out on a boat on the sea of Galilee. This sea isn’t very large and storms like the one mentioned in Mark would have been rather unexpected. The wind was picking up, causing the waves to come crashing into the boat, filling it with water. I imagine we too would act just like the disciples, panicked and afraid at the possibility of drowning out at sea. They wake up Jesus, who is peacefully sleeping in the boat amidst the storm. When he wakes, Jesus says, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” Most of us would think, “Wow, Jesus. Isn’t that a bit harsh?” But that goes to show the ignorance we have as fragile human beings who tightly hold onto our mortality and often hold it higher than God.
Jesus slept because he trusted his Father would protect him even when reality posed a threat that would say otherwise. Although in the moment all seemed lost to the disciples, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of trust and faith in God. It seems like a trivial thing to us, but Jesus took that faith seriously. He expected them to submit their fears to God who had ultimate control of the situation already and when they didn’t they made fools out of themselves, because Jesus (God made flesh) was right there to quiet the waters. How they acted in that moment displayed what they actually believed about God. Had they rested, just as Jesus rested, knowing God would take care of them, they would have ended up just as safe as they did even after they made a big hoopla out of their situation. There was no need to worry. They only needed to trust and submit their bodies in rest to the Lord.
We see more examples of this obedience and trust through sleep in the Old Testament as well. David remarks in Psalm 3:5, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” This perfectly parallels the same attitude Jesus had on the boat, meaning we’re all capable of this same kind of rest with the help of God. Even when our anxieties, depression, or even physical causes are preventing us from finding rest in Him, Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”
D.A. Carson once said, “Sometimes the godliest thing you can do in the universe is get a good night’s sleep—not pray all night, but sleep. I’m certainly not denying that there may be a place for praying all night; I’m merely insisting that in the normal course of things, spiritual discipline obligates you get the sleep your body needs.”
So, with all this said, go get some quality sleep and trust in your Father who gives you rest.