Napping and Other Such Spiritual Disciplines

In my personal season of harried new motherhood and this corporate season of Lent, I’ve struggled to find spiritual practices that work – that are honoring to such realities as an infant waking up an hour earlier than I had hoped and yet responsive to the Lenten invitation to slow down, recognize my pitiful human condition, and receive God’s life.

I would have liked to dedicate an hour each morning to silence and prayer, or commit to prepare food for the homeless once a week, or retreat for a weekend to our favorite monastery. Instead, God has been challenging me through some less conventional disciplines – like napping, sleeping in, and sitting on the couch.

Me and baby Oliver on day 1 of his life, already practicing the spiritual discipline of napping.

Me and baby Oliver on day 1 of his life, already practicing the spiritual discipline of napping.

The sad truth is that I find these things hard to do. It’s easier for me to work myself into a foaming-at-the-mouth to-do-list-checking frenzy than to drop everything when the opportunity actually opens up before me and rest. It’s actually physically hard, if not impossible, at times. My eyes will pop open in the morning an hour before the baby usually wakes up and I’ll think, “Oh good! What can I get done?” By the time the twenty things I could do have run through my head, my pulse has accelerated and that drowsy, “I could go back to sleep” feeling has disappeared. My body is tense and I can find no comfortable positions in bed. It takes all I can muster at these times to resist the never-ending call to do more and instead will my breathing to slow, matching it to that of my sleeping husband’s beside me.

It is an embarrassing plight in which I find myself – to find it mentally and physically difficult to rest and sleep. In this way, these activities serve me well as spiritual disciplines. They require me to recognize my humanity and succumb to the blessed groggy truth that the world goes on spinning without me, that the Lord sustains all of life and will sustain mine, even If I don’t get around to cleaning the floor this week (or maybe even this year). To rest, I often have to quiet the monkeys in my mind in the same way I do to pray. I have to tune my mind into my breath, my heart beat, and my heavy bones. I have to surrender to the present.

My other favorite new spiritual discipline is sitting on the couch holding the baby while he sleeps. Usually I’ll put him down to nap on his own, but every once in a while, especially when the monkeys in my head have eaten too many sugar cookies and have invited their friends over to play, I remain seated on the couch, letting my baby be my spiritual director. Drink in my tender new life, he beckons me with his translucent, veined eyelids. Quiet your mind by counting my tiny toes. Come taste, see, smell my fuzzy head, and know in your body that gave birth to mine the utter goodness of the Lord.