He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-8)
So, I had a great blog post for today. It was going to be about the new church I am helping to start in Durham and our first worship experience, I was really excited about it. That was until my thirty minute nap turned into six hours and I realized that I had slept through the whole thing. I had been struck, yet again by a condition known as “Accidental Sleep.” In case you are unfamiliar with this term, it is one I have discovered in my first year of seminary. It can occur at anytime and to any one. The symptoms of AS include: 1. When a short nap is unintentionally lengthened by either a alarm issue, or failure to hear an alarm due to a catatonic sleep state. 2. In the midst of working late at night, you suddenly wake up to your face on your book (or computer) and several hours having passed.
When I recovered from my latest bout with AS I began to think more deeply about this epidemic which is spreading across our school. I realized that while I had not been familiar with it before, in fact, we can trace AS all the way back to the disciples. In this passage, the disciples are given the task to wait up with Jesus while he prays, that is until they are struck with our first documented case of AS. Now, in seminary, AS is usually brought on by excessive procrastination, biblical languages, or writing close readings of scripture or theology. Unfortunately, we are not given the causes of the disciples’ AS, but as a budding biblical scholar I can postulate. Perhaps they had been up late the night before preparing the Passover meal or maybe trying to figure out who it was who was going to betray Jesus. Either way, we can tell that they were tired. While it can be frustrating, AS is often a blessing because in the face of work and school, we as Christians often put our own well beings behind everything else until the point that we become exhausted. When we have pushed ourselves too far, AS (and God) reminds us that we are human, our flesh is weak, we need to take care of ourselves.
This need for self care, however, has greater implications. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (possibly quoting Jesus), that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. This is a scary thought. We never know. God never tells us when we will be called upon to do some task. Sometimes it is a random question about theology, or a sudden crisis in which we are called upon to give comfort. In these moments, we don’t have time to do serious study and prayer. Several times, either during hospital visits, on the bus, or while talking with a friend, I as a future pastor, have been called upon to give some sort of statement and found myself in a state of spiritual AS, and end up giving a wholly inadequate answer.
Just as the only way to avoid AS in seminary is to better prepare ahead of time for readings and papers so that you do not have to cram all the work into the late hours of the night, sacrificing sleep and self to make a deadline, I think that the only cure for Spiritual AS is to prepare one’s faith before the situation arises. Time in prayer, meditating on scripture, and dialoguing with fellow Christians about how God is working in the world not only makes us better followers of Christ, but also gives us the tools we need so that when God calls on us to speak into a situation we are able to intelligently and articulately convey God’s Word. It is my prayer that as we enter this time of preparation for Easter that we can take the time to prepare ourselves both for Christ’s return into the world, but also for the everyday demands of following Christ. Because when God calls, the last thing I want to do is to found asleep.