Thoughts at 2 a.m. on another sleepless school night, some years back:
Oh no! Didn’t print those worksheets! Gotta get there early tomorrow. Have I got enough rubrics left from last year? Shoot! Left that folder in the computer lab. Did I e-mail Bob my state standards action list yet? GOT to get some sleep. What to say to Billy’s mom tomorrow. Poor kid. Grades tanked after Dad left. Man, I’ve reeeeeeaaaaaallly got to get some sleep!!!!
When I returned to teaching high school some years ago, I slept an average of 4-5 hours each night for about four months. As with many careers, at the end of the day, my brain overflowed with unfinished business. I lived in high anxiety trying to up my teaching game to match the current expectations which changed profoundly during my years in a different career. Exhaustion and a short fuse became my norm. Ever been through a season like that or maybe that’s a norm for you?
Did you know chronic sleep deprivation like this creates some disturbing psychological effects like memory loss and a loss of ability to evaluate risk? It also affects the part of the brain related to paranoia and fear. In other words, the more you stay awake pondering stuff and trying to solve problems, the more stressed out you’re going to feel! God fashioned us to sleep about 8 hours out of every 24. When we live outside our bodies’ built in expectations long term, we create new problems.
Life can deliver some walloping blows to our state of mind and ability to rest. Grief, financial setbacks, divorce, rebellious children, job loss, pressures at work and other momentous events can hit our minds with hurricane force, keeping us churned up inside for extended periods of time. Even positive changes, like moving to a different house, starting a new job or bringing an infant home can create sleep-robbing anxiety. Here’s the great news; believers are given access to unimaginable resources to ensure that sleeplessness is a temporary season, not a lifestyle. Here’s some of my favorites when I’m tempted to fix my life between 2-4 a.m.
- “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” 11:28
This open-ended invitation from our Savior paints a word picture in my mind of me burying myself against Jesus’ chest with his arms wrapped around me. Verse 29 describes Jesus teaching us how to bear up under life’s loads. This comes from the One who carried the load of his own impending death with Him probably most of his adult life. No one understands your burdens better than Jesus.
- “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7
In the Greek, the word “cares” is the same one used to describe someone who gives great care to an object, like a gardener, who lovingly, skillfully tends his landscape. That’s how it is with us and Jesus. He who created us, knows best how to tend to us. Thanks to the truth of this verse, when I feel overly stressed, I picture myself putting everything I’m worried about into a backpack. I then hand it over to Jesus. Sometimes I need to do this repeatedly to convince my soul that I can go to sleep and Jesus will take care of my stuff.
- “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3.
I now recognize when my mind wants to drift into my old patterns and spin itself silly at bedtime, trying to sort out something in my life. I’m so thankful the Holy Spirit shares his fruit with me, particularly self-control. When the spin starts, I use it to re-direct my mind to a place of thankfulness, reviewing times when God solved similar problems for me or other folks. I thank him for being in situations ahead of me and mopping up messes behind me. I acknowledge His power, wisdom and provision for this situation. Finally, I speak to my soul and say something like, “I can’t fix or change this right now, but God is on it and I trust Him completely.” A churning mind makes a churning body because you are not sending messages of rest and quiet to your body systems. After I speak to my soul, I take deep, calming breaths while reviewing mentally other verses about rest and peace.
These are some of the strategies that help me go from counting sheep to living like one, safe, quiet and at rest in the arms of her Good Shepherd.
What are your ideas and favorite verses for sleepless nights? Would you share some of them on my Facebook page so that other blurry-eyed brothers and sisters might find some encouragement?