Are you Asleep or Awake: The Dilemma of the Spiritual Life

At that moment, open eyed and wide-eyed, they recognized him.”—Luke 24:31 MessageWaking up is one of the necessary movements of the spiritual life. We can live our lives asleep—going through the motions of work, family, sex, friendship and church without ever being awake—ever really noticing what is really happening around us and in us. We can go through the motions of our lives without ever really waking up.Mike, a successful business owner came to me and said, “I feel like I’ve missed out on my life.” He continued. “I’ve shown up for my work. Married my wife. Raised my kids but deep in here (he pointed to his chest)—something is missing. I feel like I have been sleep walking and calling it my life.” Can you relate?Mike was showing the first signs of being tired of being asleep in his life. The ancients called Mike’s issue: a holy discontent. Mike’s own confessed discontent were the first signs of his own awakening. There can be no waking up until we acknowledge that something is wrong—something is missing—that we’ve been asleep far, far, far too long. There is no awakening until we confess that we are discontent.We live asleepAt some of the greatest and profound moments of Jesus’ own life—those around him were asleep—unaware of what was happening around them, in them or to them. Luke documents the sleepy existence of those early followers of Jesus in the story of the Transfiguration.( Read the story in Luke 9:28-36).Jesus took three of his closest companions mountain climbing. Incredible and life-altering events began to happen but Luke is clear to tell us that even those who were closest to Jesus missed out. They were asleep. We’re told, “Peter and his companions were very sleepy” (Luke 9:32).C.S. Lewis wrote in his published book, Letters to Malcom,:“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.The world is crowded with God. God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”When we live “very sleepy” we are not awake. We are not aware of life as God intends us to live. Living life “very sleepy” is being blind to a life that is teeming around us—brimming within us. We are not aware. We are not attentive. We are not awake.When we live “very sleepy” lives we are in that strange and unsettling place of living in the in-between. We are not there. We are not really here either. We are not yet fully asleep. We are in-between--not fully here or there. It's how many people describe their lives to Gwen and me. Being “very sleep” means we are actually in a phase of transition—not yet over to the other side we are headed toward.Symptoms of Living AsleepHalf awake or half asleep is how most of us live our lives. We are not really conscious to all that is happening around us—much less inside of us. The evidence of being half asleep and not full awake is all around us. Here are some observations I’ve found helpful:

  1. We can drift in and out of conversations not really paying attention; not really understanding how a particular conversation or event is affecting us or impacting us inside. There’s not time to reflect. We don't have time to feel. We have to survive.
  2. We can live bored. We stay bored. We work bored. We try to vacation but we are bored. We are bored with God.
  3. We can live our lives by the ingrained habits of our scheduled and programmed lives. We live to survive and are asleep to the notion that we could thrive—that to thrive is really a possibility that is God ordained.
  4. Religion has made us sleepy. Church contributes to our sleepy state. Nothing is alarming. Nothing feels really important. Same ol' --same ol....It is predictable. Programmed. Automatic.
  5. We have rejected the notion of a transcendent God who desires to break through inside of us to wake us up. Perhaps we've given up that God even wants us to wake up.
  6. We can make love but are asleep to the mystery of the soul of the body we just slept with.
  7. We have grown sleepy to mystery and have preferred a linear, left-brain, rational approach to God if we seek to approach God at all. Facts bore us. But we need a rational approach to God not mystery.
  8. The dimming of our consciousness has made us live numb like lives, asleep to the possibilities of waking up.
  9. We have abandoned mystery and preferred Powerpoint and want a line by line way of "doing" God. It is how we are educated in the West, afterall. We do not know any other way of being "educated" to waking up.
  10. We assume there is no other way to live than asleep so we stay asleep and some of us die asleep--having never really lived at all.

 Could some of us be in a coma—not really aware but somehow being barely alive?As human beings, we enjoy the longest process of maturation of any other species. We are told it takes years, perhaps even decades for a baby boy to mature or a baby girl to grow up and be fully developed. As infants we sleep a lot and some adults still sleep a lot.We can sleep through our jobs. We can sleep through marriage. We can sleep through the parenting. We can sleep through God.Bob came to me to work through a marriage that was bottoming out. He came believing “it” was over. As we talked about his story and his boredom in his marriage, we both came to realize that he had been asleep much of his married life. He invested most of his energy, time and passion into his work. He had a demanding job but had little --to nothing “left-over” to offer his wife. As this went on for twenty years, he began to wake up inside and recognize that he had been asleep though he thought he had been awake. The threat from his wife that she was considering leaving him seemed to wake him up--a bit.Many of us can recall times in our church life when we were asleep. We’d move through the motions. We’d serve on committees, attend small groups but inside—we knew—yes, we knew that we were not really awake to a dynamic relationship with God that inspired us; motivated us to grow or challenged us to transform dead habits that kept us asleep. Many of us have lived asleep to the God that really is—perhaps for most of our lives. We have believed in a God who we feel is asleep also. How could an awake God be awake to all this mess we're in right now.By remaining asleep we live in peril not really understanding—not grasping a deeper, richer and more full way of living.A woman in her mid-40’s lamented to me recently: “I get up. I go to work. I eat. I come home. I watch some TV and do some stuff on my computer. I go to bed. Is this my life—is this the life I was meant to live?” Her questions become our questions. She speaks for many of us.Are we aware that Jesus said, God’s true kingdom is within us? Are we asleep to the Kingdom but awake to church attendance? Have we numbed out on performance and sacrificed intimacy with God?Our Real DilemmaHow can we fathom such a profound truth when our kid’s diaper needs changing; dinner needs to be prepared and the bills are waiting to be paid? Do we accept this half-way kind of spiritual awareness; ignoring the emotions of our lives—living more flat-lined than fully alive; attending church but finding ourselves day dreaming of something more pressing—more urgent—more attention grabbing.Just as those early disciples awakened to a greater reality of life—so are invited to awaken. Until we awaken—until we wake up to what is true and what is genuinely being offered to us in this life by our God who loves us and truly is for us, then we will live our lives unaware; filled with illusions about what we think is true about God but actually is not true at all.One of the greatest problems of Christianity in today’s world is that we are so very comfortable. When we live cozy lives and live with a faith that does not challenge and does not inspire us we become like the frog in the kettle. The frog in the kettle is where someone drops the living, moving and croaking frog into luke warm water. Then the heat turns on and slowly—ever so slowly heats the water so that the frog is not even aware of what is happening. Before too long, the frog is being boiled alive. Here’s the process: too much comfort brings too much sleep and too much sleep brings death or a death-like—catatonic existence that we are calling the “abundant life.” Jarred into being AwakeBeing discontent is the soul’s stirring to wake us up—to get us to pay attention—to get us to become more fully awake.  This soulful discontentment often happens uninvited and unwanted.We move out of our comfort zones when something happens in our lives—to us or to someone we care about and everything changes.-A car accident leaving a loved one dead on the side of the road.-A phone call in the middle of the night with the most horrid news.-A doctor announcing the diagnosis you most feared—most did not want to hear and you simply cannot believe “it” was said.-A boss announcing that you are fired!-A letter in the mail you open-- informing you of news you never wanted to hear.These things and more are like sticks poked into our souls to wake us up from living asleep and from remaining in that liminal space of in-between.I have felt those jarring prods and sticks arousing me many times in my life. When Gwen was diagnosed with breast cancer….that news came at what I thought was the most horrible of our times to hear such news. The moving truck was in our driveway to transport all of our earthly belongings to Colorado where we were going to begin again our lives and work. As the movers were moving our couch into the massive eighteen-wheeler container, Gwen drives up into the driveway; gets out of her car and says, “I have cancer.”It was a terrible interruption to my life to hear such news. My plans where thwarted. We didn’t have time for cancer. We had to move; had to get started; had to get there to begin my new job—a job I was thrilled to begin.The stick of cancer woke me up. I was jarred into seeing life, health, our marriage—the possibility of being a single dad and more in a whole new way. Thankfully, Gwen is a cancer survivor to this day but for me; for Gwen and for us—everything started to change. We woke up to the brevity of life. We were awakened to how precious and holy life really is. The things I took for granted began to take on new meaning—a deeper meaning. I had my own transfiguration right there on that driveway. I woke up.  But I can go back to sleep.After 37 years of marriage, Gwen and I are waking up to each other in a whole new way. We’ve both chosen to do interior work through counseling and spiritual direction to face some buried and hidden issues that seemed to hijack us from time to time—perhaps a whole lot of time—perhaps more time than I may admit. But in the last three years, we’ve worked hard on childhood wounds that have awoken us to the hearts of each other in a way we never really embraced before. We are courageously walking into each other's story to be awake to what was really going on. We've needed to wake up? Have you?Waking up is not easy sometimes. Waking up demands that we choose to do the work we need to get out of a trance where we believe a myth that everything is well—when in fact, it is not well at all because we are not well at all. But we can choose to stay in a comma or we can choose to keep waking up. It really is that simple.In some ways, it feels like living in coma, aware that someone is speaking in the room we are in but not being able to respond well; not being able to really understand; not being able to feel anything at all because we are become numb. It's time to wake up.Waking Up Can be UnpleasantAnthony De Mello reminds us that waking up is unpleasant. Who wouldn’t want to remain fully asleep? Who wouldn’t want to remain under the covers on a chilly morning? After all, some of us get annoyed—even angry when the alarm clock rings awakening us to another day of the same old—the same ole life that we’ve been living for all these years.Waking up is a work of God—perhaps one of the first works God does in our lives. God uses the sticks, the jarring phone call; the unexpected “interruption” to rouse us from our sleepy lives. God knows that life is not meant to lived while remaining asleep. There is MORE and realizing that there is MORE becomes a kind of inner alarm clock to get us up and to start living a life defined by abundance not survival.---------------------------------I'll be continuing this theme in future blog postings. I'd invite your comments here.