by Laurel Bunker
I can still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in an 8 a.m. political science class. Thinking that sitting in the front of the room would aide me in paying close attention to the professor, I sat in front of him, hoping, praying that I would stay awake.
I did great for the first 20 minutes or so, but eventually my late night shift at work, coupled with several hours of homework afterwards, caught up with me. Smack! My forehead hit the desk with such force that it literally bounced me straight up in my chair and almost threw me backward had it not been for the back support piece and a college friend sitting behind me who kept me upright!
The professor looked as shocked as I was, although I am sure he was nowhere near as embarrassed. After the few brief moments, my professor leaned forward and whispered to me, “You may want to get up and go and get a drink of water and check your head.”
I attempted to slither out of the room, as classmates watched me out of the corner of their eyes. Friends grimaced and shrugged as if to say, “It happens to the best of us; just glad it was you and not me.” Of course, someone had to burst out laughing.
This was not my most shining collegiate moment. Fortunately, my professor and I both understood that I was a good student and that it was not a lack of discipline or hard work that propelled me into this moment of embarrassment; rather, it was due to an issue that impacts many university young people—lack of sleep.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 35% of American’s are not getting enough sleep. In fact, one-third of us are getting less than the recommend seven hours of sleep on a nightly basis, and some are getting as little as four hours of sleep per night!
The results are troubling. Beyond occasional crabbiness or an inability to focus on daily tasks at work or at home, lack of sleep can fuel greater challenges such as diabetes, obesity, and heart problems. Sleep is essential for the body and mind to function; however, many of us, obsessed with busyness or overwhelmed with life’s challenges, seem to miss this vital point.
Beyond physical rest, there is also a need for spiritual and emotional rest. This kind of rest may be thought of as ceasing from striving and straining, running from place to place, problem to problem and issue to issue. God desires for us to slow ourselves and to cast our cares upon Him because He truly cares for us and our mental, emotional, and physical health (1 Peter 5:7, Phil. 4:6). God desires for us to take rest.
Why might it be important for us to examine this issue of taking rest?
- We cannot function properly without it.
- We become mentally and emotionally compromised without it.
- God wants us to grow in dependence on Him, not deepen our dependence on ourselves by striving to do more.
- To learn to appreciate the wonder and beauty of all that He has created.
- To be present with Him and with people.
- Our God Himself rested and patterns for us the need for resting from our labor (Gen. 2:2-3).
At the end of Matthew 11, after Jesus has preached in the towns of Galilee and rebuked those in other parts of the region who had not repented from their sin after witnessing the miraculous, Jesus addresses those whom He knows are in need of hope, healing, and rest. He says,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28-30)
God knows all too well the things that seek to overwhelm us and bury us under a mountain of exhaustion, frustration, weariness, and shame. Our God desires to liberate us from those things so that we might be free to experience Him and the fullness of relationship and fellowship with Father, Son, and Spirit, and to enjoy life in Christ with those around us.
Would you take a few moments today and do a bit of gentle self-examination and ask yourself where you are missing the blessings of entering into the rest of God? If you are literally struggling to sleep, would you pray about seeing a sleep specialist, visiting with a pastor, or at minimum, praying and asking the Lord to reveal to you what is at the heart of your restlessness?
If you are simply too busy, and you know that it is compromising your time with the Lord and preventing you from being your best self, would you ask the Lord to provide you with the wisdom and the courage to step away from things that are hindering your patterns of rest? Would you consider studying the Sabbath, perhaps and learning the beauty of unplugging literally as well as figuratively so that you may have time with the King and with those around you?
You matter to God and to the Body of Christ, which means that we must be healthy for today and for tomorrow. Learn to take rest.
Laurel Bunker is dean of campus ministries and campus pastor at Bethel University. Laurel’s mission is to radically impact the lives of individuals through empowered teaching and preaching and through mentoring others to be influencers of culture through Christ-centered leadership development.