In Matthew 26:40 we see Jesus resisting temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the disciples falling headfirst into it. Jesus asked his friends to "keep watch" with him, and yet they were unable to do so. In this case, sleep was the siren temptress that got the better of them and kept them from doing what the Lord asked them to do.
Most people would not think of sleep as detrimental to one's spiritual life. It is a natural function. But in asking myself the question, "What is keeping me from communing with Jesus in prayer?" and the greater question, "What do I prefer to God?" during this time of Lent, I have found that sleep has become the biggest enemy to my spiritual life.
I love sleeping. I usually fall asleep on the couch after dinner, take naps on the weekend, and go to bed early and wake up late, sometimes logging ten or more hours a night. I am a glutton for sleep.
Don't be fooled; Satan uses whatever devices he can to keep us from prayer, to keep us lukewarm and apathetic towards our Creator, to keep us from having a loving relationship with Jesus. If it is something as innocent as sleep, so be it.
Now I am not talking about keeping all night vigils like St. Anthony, or anything so extreme. In my case, it is simply getting up an hour early to pray. We are fortunate enough to have a chapel of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament close by, and as a Lenten commitment to deepening my relationship with Jesus, I have been trying to spend an hour in Adoration before work, at least a few days a week. It is such a nice thought.
But when it comes time to get up at 6:30am to make it happen, it astounds me how resistant my flesh is to the prospect. In the same way I used to struggle with sexual temptation when I was younger, I am literally wrestling with my lazy flesh to get up and go pray.
Because I am half asleep, my will is weakened, and my natural inclination is to lie back down when the alarm goes off. And I have done so on many occasions during the past month. Rather than face discomfort and simply get up when the alarm goes off, ripping the flesh out by the root in one fell swoop, I give Mrs. Sandman permission to perform a strip-tease, tantalizing me with "10 more minutes" or "just rest your eyes for a minute" and "God will understand." 6:30 becomes 6:45, 6:45 becomes 7:15, and before I know it, I've lost my window of opportunity to be with Jesus for the morning. It seemed so innocent. But really, I let my guard down spiritually, and played right into the Devil's hand.
This battle with the flesh is not about sleep, or sex, or food, or this or that particular thing. It is, more generally, about comfort. Jonathan Robinson, in Spiritual Combat Revisited, puts it well:
"The analogy with physical training for a game is still an apt one. If we never exercise, our muscles go slack, our heart goes fatty, our breathing becomes erratic, and our reactions slow down.The desire of physical comfort leads us to underestimate the exercise that is really needed to play the particular game we want to play. The desire for comfort is the great obstacle to physical well-being, and the desire for comfort is one of the most dangerous enemies of spiritual health."
Sleeping in an hour may not seem like a big deal on the surface. But if it keeps me from spending time with God in prayer, then it actually becomes, spiritually, a very big deal. Lent is the perfect time to train spiritually, to work on what keeps us from being in right relationship with God. Jesus made deliberate time to get away and pray, even though he was communing with the Father 24/7. In our busy lives it can be difficult to find time to get away. But we will find a way to make time for what we love. We always do. The question is, what do you love?