Ever have one of those nights where you can’t sleep? You toss and turn, pull up the covers, push them down, fluff up your pillow, pound it, turn the light on, turn the light off, open the window, close it, and you’re still staring at the ceiling, avoiding the clock on your bedside table for fear of its shaming glow that says, “You’re not asleep yet? You headed for bed HOURS ago.”
Sometimes it’ll be a passel of worries that keep me up, and I attempt to do what my wife does at Lent when she gives up worry. “I turn the worries into prayer,” she says. A worthy strategy.
But oftentimes there seems no rhyme or reason for it. I’m just awake and the rest of the world seems to be sleeping. Peacefully, quietly. Restorative sleep.
Paul lists “sleepless nights” as one of the trials he undergoes and maybe by that he meant watchfulness or insomnia, but Jesus was so relaxed that when the disciples were fishing on storm-tossed waters, he slept through the whole turmoil and seems irritated to be wakened. Why didn’t they trust that he would look out for them, even asleep? Why indeed?
Instead of tossing and turning, I’ve found the best use of time during a sleepless passage is something I remember learning from Norman Vincent Peale from an article he wrote back in the early 80s. The message: Pray for others.
I go through the alphabet, starting with A, taking my time. After all, I’ve got all night. “Addie, Allen, Abigail, Barry, Bruce, Beverly, Becca, Catherine, Cordelia…”
Then I’ll find my mind swerving to concerns or diseases that fit those same letters: “Addiction, alcoholism, breast cancer, cervical cancer, cancer period…” which leads me to another roster of people.
I start picturing them whole, untroubled, safe, prospering, cared for, loved. And I’m always amazed how many people come to mind, people I haven’t thought of in years, people I’ve never known personally.
I like to think my prayers are making a difference in their lives, however far they are from me, even if I’ll never know what caused me to think of them. There’s a calming of the agitated wavelength and a community gathering in the nighttime.
“Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” I think. It’s better than lying there aimlessly. It gives me a sense of purpose and some measure of peace.
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep,” the Psalmist said, “for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety” (4:8).
The truth of the matter is, there’s usually a big chunk of the alphabet I don’t get to, anything that begins with U, V, W, X, Y, Z. They might have made an appearance earlier in the meanderings of my brain, but by the time I get that deep into the alphabet, I am headed to sleep.
Of course, you can count sheep if you wish. But if you’re up–and I too might be up with you–let’s pray.