The Grace of Awakening

The journey of the spiritual life is about waking up. The Spanish poet, Antonio Machida has said, “All the words of Jesus Christ can be reduced to two: wake up!” Jesus never seemed content to let people remain as they were…to coast through life or to remain asleep in their life. His words woke the religious establishment up. His words jarred the faithful. His words comforted the outsider and welcome us home.

He jarred those on the left and made those who thought they were “right” to reconsider their ways. Everything about his life, death and work was about waking people up. His work has not changed though our culture is luring us to a long, long sleep.

It’s time to wake up. There is a grace when we awaken. When we think about it, we all spend long years of our lives in a sleepy condition. Life is happening all around us but many of us are asleep to it. 

Remember when you went to college? Were you more asleep than awake? Do you recall much of what you said you learned? Were you asleep in those years?  How about in your first job? What might you have been asleep to then that you wish your were awake to? We miss out because we live as if we are in a coma, perhaps sleep walking through our lives, our marriages, our parenting, our vocations and all that is important to us.

To wake up is to live--really live and to really live is an important part of our abundant life offered us by Jesus Christ. Waking up is coming to our senses like the prodigal in Jesus’ famous story who left his life in search of another and found himself in a pig sty scrapping up the pig’s slobber for his food.

Jesus told us, he “came to his senses.” What he means by this is that he woke up; paid more full attention to his life and then took action. There can be no action in one’s transformation until one comes to their senses. Ask anyone who has ever tried to recover from an addiction or a jarring experience in a relationship such as an affair to wake us up. Waking up and coming to our senses is truly a good thing. In the story of the Transfiguration, we are told that as Jesus was on the mountain; as he was being changed into a glorious glow, that Peter and his friends were sleepy. They missed the details. Groggy from their work; tired from their mountain climbing adventure, they choose to nap missing out on one of the most pivotal scenes in all of Scriptures. Luke tells us though that they began to wake up. In their waking up, they too came to their mysterious senses realizing that something big and important was happening. 

We can sleep through many aspects of our lives taking everything for granted; living in a stupor that all will be the same tomorrow. But ask someone who is married what it is like to wake up to the jarring news of their spouses fatal heart attack while on business or a child involved in a fatal car crash—never to be seen, held or kissed again. These horrible jarring experiences wake us up to a new reality. For many years, I feel as if I was asleep to my health. I took my health for granted never really thinking through what decades of eating the wrong foods might be doing to by organs and arteries. Waking up happens when a Doctor says, “We have a problem. It’s serious.” Growing up in the south, I believe I thought that a triglyceride was a people group that the Jewish people fought with for centuries.

Now, in waking up, I’m realizing the truth. I am coming to my senses. I have counseled scores of couples who are waking up to the great canyons of space between them. An emotional affair has drifted into their heart spaces pulling one of the partners in like gravity to crash and burn. We spend hours about waking up to a lost love and an erosion of intimacy that slowly crept in. Coming to their senses, the couple makes progress in rekindling their love and intimacy. But without coming to their senses, something more catastrophic will happen. It always does when we sleep through our lives. 

How do we wake up? How do we cultivate space within our lives to remain awake and pay attention and to give care around us and within us as we live our daily lives? Here are five suggestions for waking up and coming to your senses that we can practice routinely to wake up and stay awake. 

  1. Waking up involves an inner-vigilance. Years ago, people knew what a vigil was and regularly practiced vigils when someone was sick; someone had died or someone was in danger. Today, though, busyness and over-commitment to make life work as we think it should has robbed us of knowing much of anything about vigilance. The word vigilance means “the action or state of keeping careful watch for possible danger or difficulties.” Careful watch…did you catch that? Soldiers practice vigilance when on patrol looking out for the enemy? But how can we begin to pay vigilance to our health, the space between us and God and the dear, sacred relationships we have but have so little time for. Practicing vigilance means to begin with a renewed commitment to watch out; to pay attention; to stay alert.

  2. Waking up involves making space for your inner life. We wake up when we dismiss the lie that life is about what happens to us externally—our work, our meetings, our obligations, etc. We have an inner life—a soul that is impacted and affected by each conversation; each meeting; each event. Creating space could mean to build in some time to reflect what just happened in you as you “went through” that meeting or appointment. Did you feel God’s loving nudge to pay close attention to something that you heard? I’m learning to build more margin time between my meetings so I can have a few moments to just scan my inner world to see where a comment might have hurt me or bothered me. Was I triggered by what she said? Do I need to write down an action point for me to follow up on before I forget it?

  3. Waking up requires silence. It seems like a paradox to speak of silence in such an action filled world. Who has time for it? But all the ancients will agree with me on this main point, that without silence there is no waking up at all. Period. Twenty minutes of silence a day helps us settle our souls; pay attention to our own hearts and allow God, who is already within us, to speak, comfort or spur us on to some good action. Silence is the pivotal hinge to a life that is awake. We just returned from a three day silent retreat. We had times set aside each day where we gathered but sat as still as possible to settle the dust and cobwebs within us. We listened for God and we found ourselves loved by God. We awakened through silence to God’s voice. Too much noise; too many words drowns out the sacred silence that is always speaking.

  4. Waking up involves all the senses. Waking up helps us to pay attention. An ancient once said, “The ministers to the soul are the five senses.” I believe this is very true. Waking up to beauty helps us experience real comfort and awe when we are dead to ourselves and to the beauty around us and in us. What we see; what we can smell; how we listen and are touched are all involved in waking up. Take a walk each day with the desire to wake up. Pay attention to what you notice; what you see and what is around you. Gwen and I play music on our Sabbath and our home is awakened to swells of emotions and feelings as we listen to great music that “moves us.” We wake up to ourselves and to each other. Consider developing your own playlist of music to use on your own day of ceasing.

  5. Waking up involves excavating our stories. Knowing your story is one of the most important parts of waking up. Having someone listen to you tell your whole story is one of the deepest forms of love that is possible. When Jesus healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for years, we’re told, “She told him (Jesus) her whole story.” To explore your formation story is vital and critical. You learn how to trace how God has been moving through loving people and difficult people; through painful sagas and seasons and through rewarding times and events. Where was God? Where you awake to God as child, teen, young adult, even now?