Grace for Insomnia

Falling asleep sounds like it should be a piece of cake. But if you’ve ever struggled with insomnia you know that it can be anything but. The word Insomnia even sounds scary… like tsunami or insanity or zombie, which kinda makes sense because having insomnia makes you feel like an insane zombie.

During the day, I can be quite focused (usually). Too focused, sometimes. Tunnel vision-ed, in other words. Not long ago, as I wheeled my cart out of the grocery store, I realized that I had not even made eye contact with my check out girl. Or was it a boy?

Rachel, this isn’t good, said The Quiet Voice I’ve come to recognize.

I agreed. I never intended to be rude or unfriendly, it’s just that my mind seems to naturally jump to the next thing, without registering that the next thing may be the person in front of me right now. So I made it to point to take in the world around me—which is really kind of funny because many would argue that the first rule of writing is to pay attention to the world around you and while I can and do pay attention to the world around me, sometimes it’s only when I want to, when it’ll serve my purpose, when it’s convenient for me. Let’s face it; it’s so much easier to be self-absorbed than others-absorbed.

So there I was one day, back at the grocery store—because that’s where I often live—when the check out guy smiled and asked, “What have you been up to today?” Not how are you—an easy question to deflect with fine—but what have you been up to today? A question that requires thought and engagement and a real answer. Not a mere yes or no. This happened almost a year ago, when my friend Lynn was dying, and I was really really tired and really really sad, too tired and sad to say anything but the raw truth.

“Actually,” I said, “I’ve been with my friend in the hospital who’s dying of cancer. But she’s going home to be with God.” And then I thought, what is wrong with me?! Too much! I’ve shared too much!

But this look passed over his face. “I’m sorry,” he said “I lost my dad to cancer a little over a year ago.”

Something in me crumpled like a piece of paper. “Your dad?” I said. “I’m sorry. That’s gotta be so hard.”

And now, every time I see this guy, who can’t be that much older than my son, I remember that he’s lost his dad. And if I wonder if he remembers our little, heartfelt exchange like I do.

Where was I going with this?
Oh yes. Insomnia.
And my astounding ability to focus. Right.

At times I sleep well and deep. For weeks, even. Melatonin has been my friend, Tylenol PM a lifesaver. But then…. something switches and suddenly resting my head against my pillow at night sends my brain into ADHD overdrive and my thoughts jump from finally landing on the perfect verb for whatever piece of writing I was working on that day to the not-so-brilliant like what every happen to Tony Tiger? Does he still do commercials? Or at times I realize that I’m terribly angry about something and I absolutely must examine “it” from every possible angle, play out all the scenarios, until dawn breaks and the whole thing seems a bit blown up. What was that all about? Why was I so angry? I can’t remember. I’m too tired to remember.

I’m telling you, darkness does something to our minds. Darkness was made for sleeping and when that doesn’t happen, watch out.

One sleepless nights a few weeks back (I was neither angry or anxious I don’t think, random thoughts were just bouncing around like ping-pong balls) after roaming the house a bit, I went back to bed to try to sleep and thought, I’m not going to worry about falling asleep, I’m just going to enjoy my nice soft bed because people all around the world don’t have such luxury and I’m going to be thankful…. And before I knew it, it was morning. I had slept! I haven’t stumbled upon a cure-all. This version of the Glad Game doesn’t work every time. Prayer doesn’t either—although there are nights I’m convinced that’s what I’m supposed to do. So I do, although I usually don’t want to, I really just want to fall asleep. But I pray and sometimes this leads to sleep and sometimes it doesn’t. Oh well. Either way God hears and His grace is sufficient.

And there’s the nugget I’ll clasp: Whether I sleep or don’t sleep, God’s grace is sufficient. He’s strong in my weakness. More of Him and less than me. When I’m empty, I run to Him.

So if you happen to be reading this in the lonely wee hours of night, when it feels like you’re the only living soul awake, know that you’re not. God doesn’t sleep, ever, and he sees you in your restlessness and longs to quiet you with his love.

The LORD your God is with you.
    He is mighty enough to save you.
He will take great delight in you.
    The quietness of his love will calm you down.
    He will sing with joy because of you. 

Zephaniah 3:17



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