The day is yours, and yours also the night… —Psalm 74:16
Sometimes when I cannot sleep, I wander through the house, looking at all the other people who are sleeping. There’s a satisfaction in knowing that all my loved ones are contentedly asleep, with their blankets cozily snuggled under their chins. I feel a flash of jealousy, too, sometimes, a sense of martyrdom: “Well, at least someone is getting some sleep around here.”
Cue the dramatic sigh.
Much as I enjoy sleeping, especially now that there are so many people depending on me to be energetic and productive each day, there is a little magic to being up at night while all the world is sleeping. A few extra hours awake at night can seem sweetly stolen—silence reigns and I am free to read or write or eat the last of the cookies without sharing.
A good book to finish makes that awake time seem more purposeful, but, more often than not, I am just awake. A bad dream that has left me anxious, too much coffee after dinner that has left me flitting around the kitchen, impending visitors that have me reviewing menus and grocery lists and cooking times.
Along with the growing number of sleepyheads under my roof comes a growing number of concerns—all those well-worn adult worries, so cliché, but with reason—mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, and little heads to organize and train up in the way they should go.
For the first several years of my marriage, I suffered from frequent bouts of insomnia. I would read until my eyes burned and watered, but I could not go to sleep. I remember feeling cheated while up in the wee hours reading the Psalms one night—“He gives to his beloved sleep?! Sleep?!” What had I done wrong? Why would God not grant me sleep?
I cannot answer that question now, so many years removed from those nights of restless mental wandering, but I have learned to appreciate the sleepless nights when they happen. Thanks to the mercy of God and the tiring days of caring for three wild boys, I have fewer wakeful nights. Occasionally, though, I am awakened by something—a sick child, a vivid dream, or the ole can’t-drink-as-much-coffee-as-I-used-to, and then I’m just up. If there’s a good book on my bedside table, I’ll curl up on the little couch in the kitchen and try to finish it. But sometimes the worries steal even the pleasure of a good tale, and I know that my awake time must be spent in prayer.
I retained the childhood fear of the dark well into my adulthood, and being alone and awake after the sun had set seemed to me like a living nightmare. I still believed that something would get me if my feet touched the ground after midnight and before sunrise. And as I look back, I see a young woman who doubted God’s goodness in the dark. I needed the assurance of light and a busy humanity to convince me that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.
If God gave sleep to those he loved, then I assumed that I was out of favor with him.
Now that I am more mature (I hope) and perhaps a little more resigned to the fact that sometimes it’s just difficult to sleep, I see the wakeful hours in a different light. They can be a gift to someone like me, who spends most of the day as ringmaster of our chaotic little circus. Little feet hit the ground early in the morning, and by breakfast time there are three pairs of feet and all the corresponding noise and activity.
A few extra hours awake at night can seem sweetly stolen—silence reigns and I am free to read or write or eat the last of the cookies without sharing. Julie Spencer
When I find I cannot sleep, I am better able to enjoy the time awake. While lying down with a restless baby, I am able to “take captive every thought” and pray over it. When worrying over the various problems within our church family, I can slowly pray for each individual and take time to remember their faces and what I love about each of them. When strange dreams come or fears arise, I am always comforted by the words of the psalmists. There is truly nothing new under the sun, and reading the words of David or Asaph remind me that my fears and doubts are not unusual or outside the scope of God’s wisdom and power.
Psalm 74 begins and ends with a plea to God: Remember your people, O Lord, and your promises to them! Don’t you see what is happening, Lord?!
But sandwiched between the bitter cries is something delicious, a rich reminder of who God is. The God who promises salvation is the Creator of all, and Lord over his creation. When I feel, along with the psalmist, that enemies are surrounding me, and that God’s name is being mocked, I remind myself of who God has proven himself to be, not just in history, but in my own life.
Since the beginning of time the day has belonged to God—and also the night. God doesn’t put up the Closed sign at the end of the day. He is as near and watchful at night as he is on the sunniest day. Yes, sleep is a gift and a blessing from God, but fellowship with God—with the King from long ago—that is the greater gift. So when I am just…awake…I try to imagine that God has woken me up for a purpose—for time with him, time to enjoy the gift of a quiet house, time to think and pray without interruption. And I am quick to say Thanks! any morning I wake up after a full night’s sleep.