Perhaps some of you can relate. My brain is always moving. On my Clifton Strengths Assessment, I’m high in Futuristic. It’s a blessing and a curse, because while it helps in putting together a plan, my mind is always racing to the next thing.
Being present can be a challenge for me. Being still is near impossible.
So, when it comes to curling up on the couch on a Sunday afternoon my mind almost instinctively begins thinking of things I could (or should) be doing instead.
Have I swept new sand into the cracks in our new patio?
What do I have going on this week? Could I be using this time to get ahead?
Maybe there is a book or article I ought to be reading.
I should be using this time to pray instead.
I allow these thoughts to invade my nap space because (I’ve recently identified), I’ve got some thoughts about taking naps. Here are a few:
Naps are not productive.
Naps are excessive and indulgent.
Naps are selfish.
There is always something more I could be doing (I thank the Marine Corps for this exhausting thought).
Naps are a waste of time.
Naps are keeping me from doing what God is actually calling me to do.
I don’t have this kind of time to waste.
This past Sunday, when I was feeling extra tired from working an online-conference all weekend, I laid down to attempt a nap and immediately had this nagging thought that I had not yet done my required reading for my Spiritual Direction certification course. Ugh!
So, not wanting to waste time on a nap, I pulled out my phone, opened my app, and pulled up the reading for the week. I was pleasantly surprised that there was only one assigned reading, and it was only two pages long! I couldn’t wait to check this box.
The reading was from St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul, and it spoke directly to my production-obsessed heart. He writes of the person experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul, advising:
The way in which they are to conduct themselves in this night of sense is to devote themselves not at all to reasoning and meditation, since this is not the time for it, but to allow the soul to remain in peace and quietness, although it may seem clear to them that they are doing nothing and are wasting their time, and although it may appear to them that it is because of their weakness that they have no desire in that state to think of anything. The truth is that they will be doing quite sufficient if they have patience and persevere in prayer without making any effort…
…And although further scruples may come to them—that they are wasting their time, and that it would be well for them to do something else, because they can neither do nor think anything in prayer—let them suffer these scruples and remain in peace, as there is no question save of their being at ease and having freedom of spirit.
While St. John of the Cross is speaking specifically to advancing in the spiritual life, his words are deeply practical to us in our everyday life. There comes a time when our human efforts are no longer sufficient in advancing us towards God, and in fact, they eventually can become a hindrance. There are hidden ways that God passively perfects us–so hidden that we are unable to perceive them with our senses. Here, St. John’s invitation is to not be led by our senses and human wisdom, but rather, choose to walk by Faith and not by sight.
It is an invitation to allow God’s work to increase while our own human work decreases.
It’s an invitation to enter the purifying posture of passive receptivity.
Consider as a parent the love that you can pour into a sleeping child in your arms. Compare that to a squirming toddler who cannot sit still. I love my toddler, and I relish those moments when we are sitting together quietly on the coach in the morning after she’s just woken up. Those moments are powerful bonding moments, though it would seem on the outside that nothing is really taking place.
I finished the reading, set my phone aside, and closed my eyes in the confidence that God desired to pour His love into me on that couch. And it was a glorious nap!