In our culture, sleep is one of the most intimate things we do. Sleeping around people requires a level of trust. Anyone who has had their face drawn on at a childhood sleepover or their stuff stolen while curled up on an airport floor knows that falling asleep leaves us extraordinarily vulnerable. This vulnerability is why women choose our sleeping companions carefully.
Trust and Vulnerability
Literally sleeping with someone is not something we do casually. It is reserved for those we feel closest to: a dear friend, a sibling, a spouse.
When I give chastity talks to young women, I often discourage napping together. Being horizontal and sleepy with someone you are attracted to often compromises the ability to make good decisions.
Especially when thinking about romantic love, we often say things like “I don’t want to sleep alone forever.” Once, I was arranging overnight accommodations for my family coming to visit me at my missionary community. We only had single beds. My dad, a loving but not-very-sentimental guy, asked if there were any larger beds. He doesn't like sleeping without my mom next to him.
The Ache of Sleeping Alone
As a single woman looking toward a vocation of marriage, sleeping alone has often felt like the physical embodiment of what was missing in my life. I desire someone I love enough to sleep with.
This fact was frequently highlighted each night as I fell asleep alone, full of despair. I have had a full size bed for the last several years. Although I only use one pillow I always have two on my bed. After a particularly difficult break up in which we had both discussed marriage in a serious way, seeing that second unused pillow was a stab to my grieving heart. After imagining the head that could have occupied it, that empty pillow rankled.
The Spirituality of Sleeping Alone
Recently, I was speaking with a nun who told me about retiring to her cell to sleep each night. I hadn’t brought it up, but I believe the Holy Spirit was speaking through her. She told me that no matter how strict the level of poverty a religious community adheres to, each member is given her own “inner room” for sleeping. Rather than that being lonely, she described it as beautifully intimate time to be alone and vulnerable with her lover, Jesus.
This idea has changed my perception of sleeping by myself. Rather than seeing it as a time of loneliness, I began to reframe the experience as one of deep intimacy with my heart’s Love. While I believe that I am called to marriage, my first and deepest love will always be Christ. As I would be about any other important relationship, I am always looking for ways to strengthen my love and commitment to Jesus. When you really know someone, you can be together without saying anything. Apart from sitting quietly in Eucharistic Adoration, I had never figured out a way to do that with Jesus.
Sleeping in the Peace of Christ
Reframing my sleeping as alone time with Jesus was powerfully comforting. It didn’t even take that much imagining. It was almost as if that nun’s words helped me to recognize that Jesus had been there all along, waiting for me to notice Him.
Going to bed alone, seeing that second pillow, waking up in the middle of the night, and sleeping in on the weekends all have a deeper meaning for me now. Imagining this as time with my Love in which we can be together without speaking, sharing something vulnerable, has resulted in a sincere deepening of our life together.
Single ladies, do you find this aspect of life difficult? How can you transform it in to a time of intimacy with God?
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Chelsea Piper is passionate about the religious formation of youth and young adults, despite it being a conversation-killer at rooftop parties and family get-togethers. She spends her time attempting to (and generally failing at) keeping houseplants alive.