Note: This article is excerpted from Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God's Transforming Presence.
I am often asked, "What if I spend time in solitude and fall asleep?" Perhaps the most spiritual thing we could do is get more rest so we are alert when we want to be alert. But we can also use our times of solitude as opportunities to rest in God. I have come to count on extended times of solitude as opportunities to take at least one nap, and I experience God's delight and care as I rest in him. There is a very deep kind of refreshment that comes when we incorporate rest into our times alone with God.
As I have paid more attention to my tiredness and fatigue, I have learned that there are at least two kinds of tired. One is what I call "good tired." This is the kind of tiredness we experience after a job well done, a task accomplished out of the best of who we are. If we are living in healthy rhythms of work and rest, this tiredness is a temporary condition, and when it comes, we know that after we take appropriate time for rest and recuperation, we will soon be back in the swing of things.
But another kind of tiredness is more ominous, and this is what I call "dangerous tired." It is deeper and more serious than the temporary exhaustion that follows periods of intensity of schedule and workload. The difference between "good tired" and "dangerous tired" is like the difference between the atmospheric conditions that produce harmless spring rain clouds and those that bring an eerie green-tinted sky and the possibility of a tornado. When the sky is green like that, you're not quite sure what's going on, but something doesn't feel right, and you know you had better pay attention. One atmospheric condition is normal and predictable; the other is risky and volatile.
Dangerous tired is an atmospheric condition of the soul that is volatile and portends the risk of great destruction. It is a chronic inner fatigue accumulating over months and months, and it does not always manifest itself in physical exhaustion. In fact, it can be masked by excessive activity and compulsive overworking. When we are dangerously tired we feel out of control, compelled to constant activity by inner impulses that we may not be aware of. For some reason we can't quite name, we're not able to linger and relax over a cup of coffee. We can't keep from checking voicemail or e-mail just one more time before we leave the office or before we go to bed at night. Or we can't stop cleaning or doing repairs and projects in order to take a walk in the evening or be quietly available to those we love. Rather than reading anything for the sheer pleasure of it, we pile the nightstand with books and professional journals that cram our heads full of information to keep us at the top of our game. The idea of taking a full day off once a week seems impossible both in theory and in practice. We rarely, if ever, take a real break or vacation, choosing instead to work through holidays and break times. Not surprisingly, even when it is time for well-deserved sleep or rest, we may be unable to relax and receive this necessary gift.
While our way of life may seem heroic, there is a frenetic quality to our activity that is disturbing to those around us. When we do have discretionary time, we indulge in escapist behaviors—such as compulsive eating, drinking, spending, watching television—because we are too tired to choose activities that are truly life-giving.