Right now, I’m about halfway through David Murray’s Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. I probably should have been done it about a week ago, when I started reading it on a plane, but I can’t finish it. At least not yet. It’s been a challenge.
The challenge doesn’t come from the writing itself. Murray’s style is inviting and the language is accessible. It’s not from a lack of interest in the book’s topic, either. If that were the case, I wouldn’t even be reading it. The challenge comes from being so darn convicted every time I read another paragraph.
Reset is Murray’s attempt to encourage all of us who are eager to work hard for the Lord1 to take a deep breath and slow down—specifically, men (though an edition for women is due out in the not too distant future). Not to stop working hard, but to develop a sustainable pace. And Lord knows we need the encouragement. So, he offers ten “repair bays” to help us diagnose the warning signs in our lives and correct them. Of these, probably the most personally significant has been the chapter on rest. Sleep.
“I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and other lies we tell ourselves
Recently, Christian George shared an article on Spurgeon’s schedule, which was terrifying to behold. Now, Spurgeon was an unusually gifted man, and I’m pretty sure George’s point in sharing it was simply that: to share, not to emulate. I know of many people (particularly young men) who would read the article and see it as worthy of emulation, and set about building a similar schedule, one that probably would give them five hours of sleep a night. At best.
But, y’know, rise and grind and all that. (Anyway…)
Over the last ten years working in Christian ministries, I’ve met more hardworking, driven people than I had in the previous ten. They work hard, they… well, they don’t really play at all. But if they did, they’d probably play hard, too. They work long days. They struggle to take vacations, and even when they do, they’re still kind of working (because there is always more to be done). And I get this, because I’m one of them.
I am a fairly high capacity guy, but I still find myself wanting to push myself to the absolute limits to do more. So I keep pushing. And my bedtime gets later. But my wakeup time doesn’t. I’ve had problems with this for years. At one point, about eight years ago, I was fried. I’d been working extremely hard for about a year, running on the bare minimum of sleep, just trying to keep on top of everything. And then I hit a wall. Standing in my tiny z-shaped kitchen, my hands started shaking as I made a sandwich. I couldn’t hold the knife I was using. My body had said “when,” and I had to listen.
After that happened, I tried to make some important changes in my routine, particularly with my sleep routine. I committed to getting to bed at a decent time every night. Which I did… for a while. And then, gradually, over a period of about three years, I started falling back into the routine of late nights and early mornings. I’d catch myself, get back into a good routine for a while, and then the pattern would start again.
Which is kind of dumb. Actually, it’s kind of sinful.
Okay, it actually is sinful.
What our sleep habits say about our faith
This is the thing that was so convicting reading this book. Reset challenged (or rather, challenges) me on what I say I believe about God:
- I say I believe God is sovereign, but my sleep habits say I don’t actually trust him with my work, or my family.
- I say I respect the “goodness” of how God has made me, but my sleep habits say I refuse to accept the good limitations he has placed.
- I say I believe I’m a holistic being—that my soul and body are connected—but my sleep habits say I believe I can neglect my body and not have it affect my soul.
- I say I find my rest in Christ, but my sleep habits say I don’t rest, period.2
Hurts, doesn’t it? And it gets worse. This neglect has consequences. When I don’t sleep enough for an extended period of time, I’m physically weaker, more prone to illness, mentally sluggish, ill-tempered and irritable, and prone to anxiety.
Why do I keep doing this—why do any of us? Probably because I’m too proud.
Humility and our need for rest
That’s why this book has been so hard for me to read with any efficiency. Page after page, I’m thinking through the implications of my sinful tendencies as far as work and rest are concerned, and I don’t like it. I don’t like that I keep falling into the same habits. But I really don’t like the pride that it reveals.
I realize that most of what I’ve written at this point makes my takeaways sound pretty bleak, one big gray cloud in need of a silver lining. And what I’ve appreciated as I’ve read the book so far isn’t just the corrective, but the underlying hope that flows through every chapter. God gives us abundant grace to change our habits and our rhythms. We’re not on our own to fix our sleep habits, our exercise routines, diets, or anything else for that matter. He is in the mix. He is working in us. And the first step is one of humility. To say “Lord, I know I am not God; help me to actually live like I believe it.” For me, that means trusting that God will enable me to get what I need done well before 10:30 each night. For you, it might mean something else. But whatever it is, it’s going to start with this first act.
Without a doubt, Reset has been one of the most personally challenging books I’ve read in years. Every page has hurt. But every page I’ve read so far has been worth it.
Title: Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture
Author: David P. Murray
Publisher: Crossway (2017)