Live Well

Embracing My Physical Limits

May 8, 2020

I said I wanted to relearn some of the lessons God’s taught me the last few months. The most practical of those lessons, I tell myself again and again:

“You, as a Dena Davidson, need 8 hours of sleep.

This need is not unfair nor God’s personal vendetta against your happiness. 

His invitation to lay your head on your pillow, is just that, an invitation.

Refusing to accept that invitation is not sin, but it’s often motivated by it.”

Let me unpack all of that…

Ever since I can remember, I’ve needed lots of sleep. My mom made me nap until I was 7. I resented that. But she told me again and again I needed it. I wasn’t the strongest kid growing up. I could run fast, but not for very long. I have mental endurance, but physical endurance is challenging.

If I’m being honest, it makes me feel weak to admit that. I want to be physically strong, but it’s something I’ve had to work for whereas spiritual and mental strength comes more naturally.

A few months ago, I sat in a coffee shop and journaled about how I valued my spiritual and emotional health over my physical health. I cried (sorry people sitting next to me) because I knew my approach was so broken. 

I didn’t value spiritual and emotional health because they were more valuable. I knew that was bad theology (God created us body, soul, and spirit; the three are intertwined in ways that we can’t understand; devaluing one to develop the other is a losing strategy). I valued spiritual and emotional health above physical health because I was better at them. 

My physical health is something I’ve had to fight for since I was 15. And it hasn’t been dramatic, but it’s been hard. Many times over I’ve felt like my body was betraying me. It kept imposing limits on my life. And my heart fought against those limits. 

Most recently, my need to get 8 hours of sleep. Not a good idea. Not a “best practice.” An actual, top priority health need.

When some old (and new) health battles resurfaced a few months back, I decided to embrace my physical limits and bend my knee to my body’s need for 8 hours of sleep.

So I gave myself a bedtime. I’m not sure how, why or when I decided to unlearn things I knew how to do as a kid (like how to sleep, play and make new friends). But hey, why not return to the first thing my grown up self longed to  ditch? 

I asked myself, what would it take to get 8 hours of sleep every night? The answer both terrified and upset me. It boiled down to me being asleep by 9:30pm, which meant being in bed at 9pm. Which meant my day being over at 8:30pm. Which meant eating dinner at 5pm. And here’s the kicker, which meant I needed to be home by 4pm. Every night.

I was basically outraged at that idea. But I committed: two months of being home by 4pm.

At my first my body was greedy. No matter how much I slept, I just felt tired. Like my body was taking revenge on me. These were discouraging moments. I found myself taking naps in the middle of the day curious that my body needed even more sleep.

I discovered that half my irritation and dissatisfaction was simply exhaustion. Taking a nap or going to bed was a reset. I found that I’m a naturally motivated person. When I felt unmotivated, 9 times out of 10, I was just simply tired. When I didn’t rest I was moody. I slogged through the day. I was short with people. My tasks took longer. I lived in my imagination instead of reality. And I endured instead of enjoyed.

Eventually my body caught up to the present. It felt satisfied with the rest I was giving it. 8 consistent hours a night led to waking up before my alarm and even some difficulty falling asleep. I didn’t need the afternoon naps.

When I caught up I faced a new battle—what would I do with this recovered energy? My commitment to sleep lasted longer than my motivation. I was motivated as long as I felt tired and sick. But when my symptoms lifted, 8:30 rolled around and seemed like a punishment.

In those moments, I learned my most important lesson. For me, losing sleep was not a sin, but it was often motivated by sin. In the last few months, there’s only 3 reasons I didn’t get 8 hours of sleep. One reason, is that someone needed me. I live in a real world with real people and sometimes they need me. I’ve seen God’s grace carry me through days, weeks, and even long seasons where I couldn’t get 8 hours of sleep (*cough, cough, I’m looking at you sweet daughter). I’ve found abounding energy when I knew I should’ve been exhausted. Somehow though, I began to treat grace like deserts.

The other reasons I didn’t get 8 hours of sleep was because I gave in to the sins of envy and performance. As I watched the next episode, as I shopped online, as I browsed through all the people having fun on Instagram, as I kept reading, as I kept eating, I gave in to the lie that I hadn’t received enough. 8:30pm was here and what I was given wasn’t sufficient. I still had desires that needed to be satisfied. I couldn’t give up on this day and trust them to tomorrow. I felt like it was my right to stay awake. I longed for my life seasons where I didn’t have to be in bed by 9:30 to be a healthy human. I longed for their life choices which allowed them to stay awake when it was my role to go to sleep. I envied my past life. I envied their current life. To say I felt all this suggests that I was aware of what was going on. I wasn’t. It’s only looking back and being mindful now that I see it. I look back now and I was craving to be someone else, somewhere else. I gave in to the sin of envy.

More frequently, I gave in to the sin of performance. Envy’s my acquaintance, but performance and I are old friends. I gave in to the lie “I haven’t done enough.” I just need to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer (I should have remembered to do it earlier), I just need to load a few more dishes so I can run the dishwasher, well I may as well wipe the counters down. I should have paid more attention to Maggie, oh well, I’ll pet her now and put her in her kennel. Did I even have a conversation with Cheyne today? I should probably ask him how he’s doing. Ah! Elle texted me three hours ago. Should I just look over my to do list for tomorrow to make sure it’s not a stressful day? Oh my gosh…I forgot I was filming tomorrow. I didn’t wash my hair. It’s not fair to Bayside that my health’s suffering, so I should probably keep working on this message. When they asked me to speak, they expected me to do a better job. Am I good daughter? Should I have visited my family? The thoughts all hit around 8pm. I could see what was happening. But sometimes that didn’t stop me. 

In these months, the greatest act of faith was putting my head on the pillow. I would say to myself, “You’ve done enough today. You’ve received enough today. Go to bed, Dena.” I began to recognize that my inability to put my head on the pillow manifested an inability to thank God for today and trust him with tomorrow. A struggle to let him define my worth. A struggle to receive from him. 

Giving in to the sin of envy was basically telling God,  “what you’ve given me isn’t enough. You don’t satisfy me.”  And when I gave in to the sin of performance, I was telling God, “what I’ve done isn’t enough, and what you’ve done isn’t enough, I have to keep working.” My stay awake mantra was, “I’m not enough. And You’re not enough either.” This was my battle soundtrack almost every night. 

I could never imagine myself saying those things to God. I can only look back and realize that was in me every time I resisted my pillow. 

I’ve said this before, but I’m chronicling this journey for me. To remember.  I’m for sure not saying that when you resist sleep that you’re often trampling grace and giving in to sin. I’m saying that in this season, that was the surprising thing God taught me about me. 

If you ever see me unhealthy emotionally, spiritually, or physically, here are a few great questions to ask me:

  • How are you sleeping?
  • How much are you sleeping?
  • What stops you from getting 8 hours of sleep?
  • What would have to change to get you 8 hours of sleep?
  • What’s missing from your life because you’re missing sleep?
  • How often have you been tired the last month?  
  • Are you motivated to do the things you need to do?
  • What time do you want to wake up in the morning?
  • What time do you need to go to bed to get 8 hours of sleep?
  • What time do you need to be home to be asleep by that time?
  • What’s making it hard to sleep?
  • Are you doing everything in your power to get 8 hours of sleep? If so, have you thanked God for sustaining you?
  • Are you staying awake because you don’t want to embrace who you are, where you are?
  • Are you staying awake because you believe you’re less when you do less? 

If I don’t verbally punch you for asking me these invasive questions (and it won’t be ‘till around the 5th question that we start really talking), hopefully we can have a quiet, honest conversation. Maybe you will sarcastically but lovingly lead me back to health. Don’t take my first reaction to these questions. We all tend to orbit unhealthy patterns. Resisting sleep is mine. I give you permission to look me in the eyes and remind me, “Dena, you’re at your best when you get 8 hours of sleep. This is a God given tripwire in your life. When you constantly miss 8 hours of sleep, something will start to break (short of God’s grace). So do all of us a favor and go get your 8 hours of sleep.” You know, then you can send me a link to this blogpost so I can be caught by my own words and remember what I fought 2 hard months to learn.

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