Sustenance for the Spirit
As was discussed in Part I of this two-part series on sleep, we often keep ourselves awake with disturbances like worry, concern, conflict and stress. We’ve been encouraged to read the scriptures that tell us to give these forms of mental anguish to God, who is the giver of peace and in turn, rest. There is truth to all of the above, but let’s not end there.
A counter-point should be considered. There just might be a good reason for our “disturbed” sleep. We see in scripture that to grow, we must go through periods of difficulty (James 1:2–4). We need to be willing to be sad, to struggle, to dig our heels in and strive for the next result, day, experience, or prayer. We might even admit that sleepless moments initiate deeply felt conversations with God, much deeper than in the light of day with all its movement and activity.
Let’s think about Jacob’s disturbed sleep. He was afraid of meeting his brother Esau face to face. The back story involves Jacob deceitfully taking Esau’s birthright, and since Esau’s personality leaned toward anger and violence, Jacob’s concern is certainly understandable. Jacob makes a plan to divide his people into two groups in case things don’t go well, and he takes his entire family to a “safe” place, finding himself alone. So, during the night, when he needs rest possibly more than he ever has in his life, he has a face to face encounter with an angel of God. It becomes a physical wrestling match, where Jacob’s hip is thrown out, but Jacob insists on a blessing from God. The angel replies to Jacob’s request in Genesis 32:28,
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
The rest is history, literally. Jacob becomes Israel, as in the Israelites whom we refer to as the Jews. Also, not to leave you hanging, the meeting with Esau went great. Esau’s reaction to meeting the brother he had not seen in years was recorded in Genesis 33:4, “But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” It begs the question, why was Jacob so worried? Yet, through his struggle he achieved God’s blessing. Our situations are perhaps not as visual, certainly we don’t normally have physical wrestling matches. But, we have this story to remind us of the importance of our night-time vigils. They may play a role in our prayer life, our growth as a Christian, and our maturation as a human being.
Another night-event story involves a boy named Samuel. God keeps calling out to him as he slept in the household of Eli the Priest. I can’t imagine what Samuel was thinking each time he got up to answer this voice that knew his name, in the dark. Since Eli had to tell Samuel who’s voice it was, we know that on that particular night, Samuel probably experienced fear and confusion. We don’t know Samuel’s emotions on that night, but we know he was willing to do whatever the “voice” asked of him. He embraced the unknown. He persisted in finding out the source, gathering as much information from Eli as he could the next morning. Samuel became God’s agent to anoint the first king of Israel, and it all started with a restless night. A lot can happen in the dark, in the middle of the night, between God and humans.
When I think of my restless nights in this new “light,” I may handle them a little differently. I think I can embrace every possible moment, restless or calm, knowing it’s an opportunity to share with my God who waits for me to ask the impossible. In the quietness of the dark we can connect with our compassionate Lord, discovering new heights of prayer and approaching issues with renewed and creative ideas. Our night-time moments of anxiety can transform us into humans with rested souls, reaching for more than mere survival. Eli’s words resonate, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.” (I Samuel 3:18, NIV)
Sleep may continue to challenge us. We live with limitless distractions to good, uninterrupted rest, and life doesn’t stop, even when the lights go off at night. Knowing who holds us close helps us feel safe and secure, which helps initiate the sleep our bodies need. And, when we experience disturbed sleep we know that the ensuing struggle can be just as healthy, but probably more within our spiritual nature. Both “states” are blessings. We just have to realize it, recognize it, and accept it. I wish you well tonight, and every night as you fall into your night-time journey. Rest in the Lord, whether or not you sleep.
I want to close with the same passage you read at the end of “Ode to Sleep, Part I”…only this time, from Eugene Peterson’s version, The Message:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Have a good night!