Stillness and Sleep by Kimberlee Conway Ireton


Today’s post by Kimberlee Conway Ireton (author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year) was inspired in part by chapter 1, “Learning to Breathe,” of Return to Our Senses: Re-imagining How We Pray. It beautifully reflects my curent theme of Practicing Resurrection.
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It’s Easter. For another five glorious weeks it’s Easter. I love that the Easter season is so long. It goes on and on and on. N.T. Wright suggests that we balance the 40 days of Lenten fasting with 40 days of Easter adding. From Easter Sunday to Ascension, he says, we should take up, embrace, include, toss our spiritual hats in the air, and celebrate.

This year for Easter, I’m embracing two much-neglected practices in my life (I think they’re much neglected in almost every American’s life, but that’s beside the point): sleep and stillness.

Sleep

As the mother of four children aged 2 to 9, I am chronically tired. My kids have more energy in their pinky toes than I have in my whole body. I run out of energy long before the day runs out of hours, long before it’s time to put my kids to bed.

So for Easter, instead of forcing myself to just. keep. going, I’m stopping. When my kids go to bed, if I feel tired (and most of the time I do), I go to bed, too. When I put my 2-year-old boys down for a nap, if I feel tired, I let myself fall asleep with them, instead of making myself get up, fold laundry, do the dishes, check email, or whatever not-so-imperative thing I think I have to do.

I am giving myself the gift of sleep for Easter.

Stillness

I am also giving myself the gift of stillness. Two books that I’ve recently read have prodded me to let myself just stop and simply be.

In Deepening the Soul for Justice, a marvelous little book by Bethany Hoang (director of the IJM Institute for Biblical Justice), Hoang writes of the IJM practice of “stillness,” a half-hour at the beginning of each work day in which all employees turn off cell phones, email, social media and stop all work (before they’ve even begun, no less!) in order to seek God in prayer and Bible reading and, well, stillness.

In my life, a half hour of stillness is hard to come by on a daily basis. Most days, at least one of my kids wakes up before I do and usually one or more is awake when I fall exhausted into bed at the end of the day. But I do have days when I can carve out a half hour during the boys’ nap…or afterward, if it’s sunny and I can send all four kids outside to play. I wish I could say I practice a half hour of stillness every day. I don’t. But it’s been such a blessing to even have it as a goal, to be able to say, this is important.

And it is important. It’s important for my mental health, but it’s also important for my physical health and crucial to my spiritual health. As Hoang points out in her book, “if our attempts to seek justice do not first begin with the work of prayer, we will be worn and weary. And our weariness will not be that deeply satisfying, joy-filled tiredness that comes from the worthy battles of justice, but rather a bone- and soul-crushing weariness.”

Boy, do I know that weariness, though it comes not from fighting for justice, but from trying to raise four children to be rational, emotionally healthy human beings and kind-hearted, whole-hearted Christ-followers. Only far too often I’m trying to do that work on my own strength, instead of starting with prayer, continuing in prayer, ending in prayer, day after day after day.

Hoang says that the work of being still (and it is work, this carving out of time and quiet in the midst of a child-full life) is a “declaration to ourselves and to God that the first work of seeking justice is the work of prayer.” In my own life, I need the reminder that the first work of parenting is the work of prayer. And so: stillness.

But legalist that I am, my practice of stillness can easily turn into just one more item on my to-do list, which is where James Bryan Smith’s gentle counsel comes in. In his book The Good and Beautiful God, Smith encourages his readers to “find five minutes each day to sit in silence. Get a cup of something warm and delicious, find a comfortable chair, and just sit quietly. That’s all.”

That’s all. Five minutes. A warm drink. Silence.

I sit in the rocking chair in our living room, so I can look out the window at the eastern sky. I sip hot tea. I keep a notebook on the sideboard beside me so I can jot down anything I don’t want to forget (like the fact that I still need to schedule a vet appointment for the cat or that there’s laundry that needs to be put in the dryer). I stare out the window, watch the clouds scud northward, the tips of the maple across the street tossing in the wind, the dance of the dangling lady-of-the-valley blossoms just outside the window.

It is amazing how this one practice of simply sitting and sipping tea and staring has come to be one of the most treasured parts of my day. If my boys keep sleeping and my older two keep playing elsewhere in the house, my five minutes sometimes stretches into ten or fifteen or thirty. I am doing nothing, just sitting and staring.

But James Bryan Smith assures me that this simple practice of just sitting “will help you slow down and become more present, more able to focus on God in your midst. It might lead you into a regular practice of developing ‘rests’ that make the notes (your actions) in your life become beautiful music.” This is what I want: a beautiful life that reflects our beautiful God.

And so I sit, declaring to myself and to God that stillness is the rock in which any work I do must be rooted because God is the Rock of stillness in whom I am rooting myself in these moments and, as Bethany Hoang avers, “God alone can move and act through us to bring about greater levels of transformation than we could even begin to dream about on our own.”

“Now to him who is able to do far more than all you can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within you, to him be glory and honor in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” —Ephesians 3:20-21

*****

It’s still Easter! There’s still plenty of time to celebrate the season. Christ, our God, died and rose again that we might have life and have it to the full. I invite you to embrace sleep or stillness (or both!) for the remainder of this season, to let the way of quiet release usher you into the marvelous reality of Christ’s resurrection, a gift of such lavish grace that all we can do is receive it.

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2 Responses

  1. Awesome reflection – thanks!

  2. Thank you. The words here really struck a chord with me – first to celebrate as much as I fasted for lent and second to consider prayer and stillness again in my also very child-full days. Thanks for the encouragement.

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