Storyblocks image. By permission.

I was in my mid-30s when I was offered the side hustle of my dreams: teaching English writing skills in a college program for immigrant pastors. The students were highly motivated adults who wanted to earn the kind of credentials required for success in a new land. The program was on the campus of a Christian liberal arts college not terribly far from my home.

And yet … I had a full-time job that demanded, on average, 46 hours per week. The evening classes would not take huge amounts of time, but preparation would be significant. More significant to me, I would arrive home after classes at about 10 pm two nights a week. That’s the hour when I was usually falling asleep. By the time I wound down after teaching and the night-lit commute, I could expect to be asleep by 11:30 or so. And being awake that late two nights a week would throw my sleep cycle off dramatically.

For some people, sleeping and waking at odd hours makes no difference. But I had already learned by experience that I need to go to bed and wake up at the same hours every day of the week all year round. Until I learned that rule, I created “mood cycles” of high energy and desperate crashes every week: Monday and Tuesday, I was energetic and active until 11:30 at night; Wednesday I was in bed at 10; Thursday and Friday, I dragged through the day’s responsibilities; on the weekend I crashed to start the cycle all over on Monday.

I’d already changed careers once to gain a consistent schedule, leaving daily newspaper reporting for the much less prestigious copy desk. Now I was working in marketing for a technology consultant. The job was not quite as regular as the copy desk, but still I started at maybe 8 or 8:30 in the morning and left at 5 or 6 or sometimes 7. I got home for bedtime. And that worked.

But here stood Chris, a young denominational leader, inviting me to take on this exciting opportunity. After a few days consideration, I met him to say no.

Why? he wanted to know.

I had too many other things on my plate, I told him.

And this 30-something rising star, who pastored a church and was father of four and coordinating services to immigrant leadership, looked me in the eye and said:

“You know, you can do more than you think you can, Carlene.”

And I just reiterated my regrets.

How would I tell him that I knew precisely how much I could do? Or, rather, precisely the hours within which I could do it? We were still in the years when Americans were challenging the “dogma” of required hours of sleep. The person who slept only four hours a night was envied, even idolized. We hadn’t quite yet hit the time when young professionals were snagging prescriptions for “ADD” stimulants so they could “retain focus” on attaining billable hours through most of the day and night. But we refused to believe that our bodies were designed with built-in limits, and that to push beyond these was at the risk of our own lives.

It’s quite probable that I can do more than I think I can. At age 61, I’m still learning new skills, so it’s entirely likely that next year I will be able to do things that this year I didn’t imagine possible.

But I’m also quite certain that I can’t fit more hours of production into my day than my body allows. God has given me this body, which places its own specific boundaries on my activities.

So even if I wish I’d taken the chance to teach those classes, I’m glad I went to bed instead. God says that God supplies all my needs. Who would I be to refuse God’s supply of rest?

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