I'm not sleeping very well. I haven't always been this way. I think, perhaps, that before I was 40, I did in fact sleep through the night, rarely waking, but I haven't been that way for a long time. I wake up once, and then I go back to sleep. Lately, however, I wake three to four times a night, and I do not always return to sleep. I am not worried about anything. I am not sick. I do not have sleep apnea, or a host of other things that may keep you awake. I'm just . . . awake.
My children and my wife do not know the sound of the house around us at 2:00, or 3:30, or 4:45. I do. The air conditioner fan turns on, and off, then back on. The refrigerator hums. Someone snores, or turns over, and the bed creaks. And there are other strange creaking sounds that are mysterious, perhaps the house settling back into the earth, forecasting its demise one distant day. That's the newspaper deliveryman, the paper landing with a plastic-wrapped thud on concrete, headlights playing off the walls. Around 6:00 the birds awake, and my cat begins to move about, with an odd chirping meow, letting me know she's up. And then there's the sound of remembrance, and you think of a childhood trip with your family to the mountains where you stopped by a mountain stream for a picnic, or a long-forgotten smell of a home you grew up in, or the beckoning of a voice you have not heard in a while calling you to dinner. The world is at rest and you can really listen to it and remember and consider things that get pressed out of your mind during the day when our thinking is more economic. At night we can afford to waste time, to be expansive. . . that is, if you cannot sleep.
I've been lamenting this lack of sleep, silently (mostly) complaining about it, as well as engaging in a bit of uneducated self-diagnosis. But the bottom line is that I haven't a clue as to why I am not sleeping that much. Today, however, I suddenly realized how rich I am, what a gift I've been given in what I considered lack. Someone said this last week, in another context, that we should not live in our lack but in our wealth. I think that was meant for me.
It's one thing to be wakeful because you are suffering pain, anxiety, or some other trial. It would be difficult to call that a gift. It would also be difficult to call wakefulness a gift if it caused you to have difficulty functioning during the day. But none of that is generally true of me. A few years ago my good friend Jerry told me that he was only sleeping two hours a night. He was delighted. The rest of the night he wrote songs, read his Bible, and walked all over the mountain on which he lived and through his neighborhood praying for people. I felt sorry for him then. I figured he would crash and burn at some point. I thought he was crazy, even manic, and yet he considered it the spiritual high point of his life. Nothing bad happened to him. After several months, he began to sleep again. Now I think God gave him a gift, a crazy irrepressible wakefulness, delighted that Jerry could spend time alone with Him. I never heard him complain about it.
This kind of wakefulness is not what I would call ideal, but I have no choice. It's given. You can't seek it, or you will crash and burn. I wonder some days how I function on all but four-five interrupted hours of sleep. And yet God promises rest to those who come to Him, saying "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt: 11:28). In fact, rest is the optimum state of the believer, "for we who believed enter that rest" (Heb. 4:3). Sleep is a "sweet" gift to the laborer" (Eccl. 5:12), and yet that's not my gift right now. It just may be that His "rest" does not include a lot of sleep but means he'll sustain me as I trust Him through the night watches. He just may have things for me to do and think at night. Besides, have you worked at sleeping? It's counterproductive. Kind of like trying to work at being saved.
Just this past week two other friends told me they were having trouble sleeping. Maybe I'll call them up tonight. No, maybe not. It may not be a gift to them but a trial. But next time you see me, ask me what I been doing with my nights. Whatever I do, I hope its Godward. Pray I'm resting in Him. I'll let you know how it goes.