The Importance of Sleep

Writing this sentence is flat out exhausting. Why? Because I am so tired. Christina went back to work a month ago, and I took on the duty of watching my son during the night. I am not a night owl or a morning person. I am probably one of the most high-maintenance sleepers on the planet – 10:00 pm to 8:00 am is my sweet spot. Nine to ten hours a night is my goal, and with a child, that goal is laughable at best. I don’t have problems falling asleep or staying asleep during the night. My problems come during the day – I cannot sleep in, I cannot nap, and I cannot go to bed early. As soon as 8:00 am comes around, my eyes are wide open until 10:00 pm – no matter how much sleep I had the night before. For example, while in college, I tried to party like all my other classmates. I stayed up till 3:00 am, drinking, laughing, and having a good old time. Guess what? At 8:00 am I was awake while all my other friends slept till lunchtime.  The same problem occurred as a child during sleepovers. The chatter of young men would go late into the night, and everyone would finally fall asleep by early morning. Not me. I would stay up as long as possible – usually, I was the first to crash – and guess when my eyeballs would pop open? 8:00 am! Being the first to wake up at a sleepover is the worst experience in the world. After staring at the ceiling for 30 minutes, I would sneak away to the bathroom. After relieving myself, it was inevitable to run into my friend’s mom – an awkward conversation at the kitchen table ensued until one of my deadbeat friends’ woke up begging for pancakes. For these reasons, I did not have many sleepovers in my life nor parties at college.

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I thought as an adult I would never have to worry about my sleep schedule – no more peer pressure from drunk friends or adolescent sleepovers with too much sugar. But plans never work out, and I married a woman who has virtually no requirements for her sleep. Christina can function on five hours of sleep and amazes me with her energy. Her whole family is impervious to sleep – my in-laws regularly wash dishes at 2:00 in the morning. I bring all this up because I believe my son has inherited my wives sleep requirements. He is a baby, and I know babies have weird sleep patterns….but Teddy is one of a kind. Teddy sleeps sporadically during the night but rarely naps during the day – combining both his parents sleep patterns. The result is a nightmare for my sleep requirements and my ability to be productive during the day. For the past two weeks, I have simply sat on the couch and watched reruns of SportsCenter. My brain was in a fog, and my reading felt like the mental equivalent of treading through quicksand. Suffice it to say, my Aristotle book is on hold until I can get better sleep. Things are improving though, and within the past couple days, I have had enough energy to move from the couch to write this blog. Teddy is starting to nap more and sleep for more extended periods – he is now four months old, so I think the future looks bright. My point for this blog is to remind everyone that sleep is the most essential thing in our lives. If we don’t have sleep, we can’t be our best selves – physically mentally, and spiritually. When we sacrifice sleep, we sacrifice our ability to philosophize, to be optimistic, to eat healthily, and to connect with God. If you have a baby, I feel your pain. If you don’t have a small child then I implore you to shut the electronics and get some shut-eye – nothing else matters. If you feel like a zombie, you will function like a zombie.

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Is God Dead?

Today is the holiest day on the Christian calendar – Easter. It is a holiday that celebrates the resurrection of life; Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross for the sins of the world. The secular version of Easter involves bunnies and Easter egg hunts which in Michigan is complicated by the presence of snow. Easter is also the symbolic beginning of spring which makes everyone optimistic about the weather and life in general. I always had mixed feelings about Easter while growing up. I loved the chocolate and the ham, but the church services just didn’t pique my interests. Sure, the flowers and the choir were a magnificent sight to behold, but I didn’t really understand why the pews were filled to the brim. The philosophy of Easter was complicated for me because I didn’t have a good grasp of what it meant to suffer. My parents did an excellent job of sheltering me and protecting me from the horrors of the world. It wasn’t until I went to college that I reexamined the importance of this holiday. My eyes were opened during my Senior Seminar class which focused on the three days of Easter.

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Good Friday is a misnomer because it was the darkest day in the history of the world. Jesus died by excruciating crucifixion on Good Friday and for all intents and purposes – God was dead. People don’t like to think of Good Friday like this, but it is entirely accurate – Jesus was both man and God – His death was the death of both God and the Son. This was the ultimate sacrifice, and for two days, the disciples of Jesus were in a complete state of darkness. All their hopes for the future were gone, and the man they had thought was their savior was gone. We are fortunate to know the end of the story; Jesus rose from the dead, and the world was changed forever – God is not only alive but interconnected to us through that sacrifice.

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To truly appreciate Easter I believe we must understand suffering. We must enter the skin of the disciples on that Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately, we enter that skin way too often even after knowing about the resurrection on Sunday. We live our lives many times as if God were dead – trying to be masters of our own universe; hope and faith are absent more times than we would like to admit. It is for this reason that pews on Easter are filled. People understand suffering and want to feel the mighty power of the resurrection – in their hearts, they know God is alive. So this Easter you need to make a decision whether God is dead or alive. Do you want to live your life trying to be your own god? Do you want to live your life as if there is no one looking out for you? I am tired of trying to control my little universe – I want to give my worries to the Creator of the actual universe. So it’s your decision, Friday or Sunday, dead or alive. I have a postcard on my desk that says “God is here with you Jon!” If you are reading this, know that God is with you right now

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“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …” Mathew 6:25-34

So this Easter really contemplate the beginning, middle, and end of the story; the end, in this case, is a happy one with an essential sequel. So is God dead? For me, I know God is alive, and I hope you feel the same way in your heart. Happy Easter.

1% Christian History

My old college roommate and I started a tradition last year. Each Christmas, we buy each other a book that we think would be beneficial reading. I didn’t know what to expect from my greasy friend but waited patiently for my gift to arrive. One day, I walked up to my porch and saw a package that looked like a wrapped encyclopedia. I wasn’t too far off; my dirtbag roommate bought me a 1000 page book on the history of Christianity – Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch. This book loomed over me all year and I kept putting off what seemed like a Sisyphean task. By the end, it took me about 50 hours spread over a month.

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Christian history is difficult because it isn’t like normal history – it is a weird dance of facts, figures, and eternity. Having eternity involved complicates everything because you either have to take the Thomas Jefferson route and get rid of all supernatural events or take the Jack Van Impe route and prepare for the apocalypse. These two extremes frame the gamut of Christian beliefs and preface why Christian history is one continuous story of division. From the moment Jesus died on the cross, his disciples went out and preached the Gospel – within a generation, groups were already disagreeing on the intricacies of theology. The Christian church as we know it today is like a box of peanut-brittle that has been shaken by a two-year-old. Originally there was one solid chunk but now there are thousands of variant morsels. This post will only focus on one tiny but very important nugget of Christian history – as the title surmises, this book could fill 99 more blogs.

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The 1% we will cover is one of the most important moments in the Christian church – the Chalcedonian Schism. The Council of Chalcedon met from October 8th to November 9th in the year 451 AD. This Council was called by the Roman Emperor Marcian as an ecumenical meeting for all the important churches at the time – the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, and Oriental Orthodox. At this point in history, the Christian church needed to clarify theological doctrine and adjust the power roles of western and eastern leaders. The main reason for this meeting was to clarify the true nature of Jesus.

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How could Jesus be both God and man? Before the meeting, there were groups who believed Jesus appeared on earth as a man disguised as God (Docetism) while other groups believed Jesus was, in reality, a normal man chosen by God (Adoptionism). These beliefs led to Nestorianism (which viewed Christ as having some mixture of divine and human elements) and Eutychianism (which viewed Christ’s divinity as completely consuming his humanity like a drop of vinegar in the ocean).

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The Council of Chalcedon sided with a watered down Nestorian view which became known as Dyophysitism – which states that Christ is one person in two natures – “distinctively” man and God in one. This led to the creation of Miaphysitism which held the belief that Christ is one nature and that nature has “inseparable” components of man and God. Confused yet? Again, Dyophysitism believes that Christ is one person with two separate natures while Miaphysitism believes that Christ is one nature which is both divine and human.

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This Dyophysitism decision at the council was agreed upon by the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, the Oriental Church broke off from this definition and became known as Non-Chalcedonian. The Oriental Church includes the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, and the Armenian Apostolic Church. This schism had drastic effects on the eastern church as a whole by shifting power to the west and decreasing overall cooperation. This separation was one variable that allowed the new religion of Islam to take over eastern strongholds of Christianity; the west would not realize their mistakes until the first crusades 600 years later.

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Our current world is shaped by the decisions at this council: The politics of countries, the religious makeup in the Middle East, and the West’s ignorance of the Oriental Church. So what can we learn from the Council of Chalcedon? One huge lesson is that Christianity can come in many different flavors, shapes, and sizes. Christians shouldn’t be divided into little pieces of peanut brittle. Christians should work together under one absolute truth – Jesus is the son of God who died for our sins so we can have eternal life and spread His message of grace; in a world still divided, we need to focus on that point more than ever. Don’t get hung up on the details and throw your hands in the air thinking religion is stupid. If you focus on loving others, you will obtain the other 99%. 

 

Waiting to Die

My whole life feels like one big waiting game. I could not wait to get done with High School. I could not wait to get married. I could not wait to buy a house. I could not wait to eat my dessert. I am always waiting for something in life and it is not good. We all tend to do this to some degree because we are uniquely gifted with the understanding of the “future” tense. No other animal is consciously waiting for some future event – they are always responding to stimulus in a programmed manner. The ultimate example of the waiting game is that guaranteed end point – death. I am scared that I will eventually run out of exciting things to wait for and ultimately begin to wait for my last breath. It sounds macabre but isn’t that what a lot of elderly people are doing at this very moment. There are nursing homes around the world full of people that have one last future plan. I don’t want to rush through life anymore and try to speed up what is already a fast-tracked existence.

On any given day, I am waiting for a myriad of future events. In the middle of the night I wake up waiting for my alarm. In the morning I wait for lunch time. In the afternoon I wait for the end of the work day to get done. In the evening I wait to eat dinner. While lying in bed I wait for my favorite TV show. While I close my eyes to sleep I wait for my dreams. When I’m waiting for the aforementioned events, I am waiting for even more things in the distant future: blog posts to write, books to read, plans to be made, sex to be had, money to be saved, and chores to be completed. During my waking hours, I probably spend 75% of the time thinking about things in the future or things that are unrelated to the present. Even when I am doing something fun, I catch myself waiting for it to be over so I can move onto the next activity.

When I was in college, I was in a huge rush to get done and start my life. I could not wait to never have to write a stupid paper or turn in an assignment again (ironic now that I blog). I did everything I could to graduate early and now I look back with deep regrets. I missed out on seeing my friends whom I rarely ever see now. There was nothing for me at the end of the process – all I had was that habit of waiting for the next step. Are we all destined to wait out our lives until we’re dead in the ground? I am realistic and know waiting will always play a role in my life. How could I ever plan for the future without daydreams? How could I ever better myself without future goals? I will never stop looking forward but I need to find a way to balance my gaze more towards the present. What is the best way to be mindful? The number one way to get out of the waiting game is to notice the details. Your brain is almost always on autopilot and can function pretty well with minimal concentration. Whenever you take your brain out of its autopilot you begin to concentrate and focus on the here and now. My top two ways of doing this is by focusing on my breath and focusing on specific details. For example, my mind was wandering while writing this blog so I focused on my breath for a couple of inhales. Almost immediately, I began concentrating on the task at hand and was completely present. If you find yourself in the waiting game focus on something extremely particular. I love looking at the sunrise or the stars when I let Max out to take a crap. Focus on one thing and just analyze it for a couple of seconds. You will be present and your thoughts will stay in that state for quite some time thereafter.

I know this is all stuff that people have heard before but I personally always need reminding. Practice being present and stop waiting for the next step. Life is a river that you float down; every bend is unique, some bends are bad, some bends are good, but you can only stay at each for a certain time – once you pass one it is gone forever.

Don’t Follow Your Passion

As a young man I was asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I came to the conclusion that I should follow my passion of science and become a doctor. Half way through college I realized that my passion was no longer being a doctor and was actually teaching people nutrition. A crap ton of student debt later, I realize that my passion is not nutrition but rather the pursuit of knowledge. This “passion” journey illustrates a key point in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love by Cal Newport. Newport makes the point that the conventional wisdom of picking a career based on a preexisting passion is wrong. The passion hypothesis creates the false pretense that there is a perfect job out there-eventually leading to confusion and workplace unhappiness when expectations fall short of reality. 

If passion is a poor benchmark for career choice…what is? To find great work, you must first gain “career capital,” which is the acquisition of skills that increase your value to the world; the passion hypothesis reverses this view with the question “what value does the world give to me?” Developing this career capital is done through the technique of deliberate practice. We plateau in our skills and deliberate practice is the quantitative-uncomfortable means of breaking those plateaus and reaching a higher level of skill (think about the contrasting brain effort between strumming a song that you already know compared to learning a brand new song). Deliberate practice builds rare and valuable skills which then leads to rare and valuable traits that define a great career. The valuable traits of a great job include control, autonomy, and creativity; with enough career capital you can receive this magical trio of job nirvana. In addition to this trio, you must develop a sound mission that gives purpose to your career. This mission can only be understood through mastery and attempts of several small projects that give you feedback. For example, I started with a broad mission of helping people through medicine and through several different trials my mission is slightly changed to helping people through knowledge. 

How can you apply this to your own career journey? Simply put, “Working right trumps finding the right work (pg 228).” Seek out a job that has the potential for all the valuable traits aforementioned. Put your head down, work hard, and realize that mastery will get you closer to job nirvana. Don’t give up on your pursuit and don’t think that jumping to a new job will bring you happiness-more than likely it will erase most of your hard-earned career capital. Eventually, because you broke skill-level plateaus you can cash in your value for a better position. We enjoy doing things we are good at but sadly people change jobs so much they never reach a level in which they feel control, autonomy, and creativity. This advice does not work if you are in a dead end job that will never provide the valuable traits of a great career-quit and find a career that does! In the end, don’t follow your passion; passions’ change and through mastery one can gain new passions that were never once realized.