I am a poor sleeper. I wake many times a night. I started wearing earplugs when I lived in Indonesia because every little sound woke me up—the cry of my sons, the electricity going off or coming back on, critters running across the roof, cats mating in the rafters, kittens mewing in the rafters, or the night watchman banging on the metal pole right outside my window to tell me that he was doing his job keeping me safe! Later, it was my husband snoring or rolling over in bed. Throw in regular travel, jet lag and a variety of strange beds and you have a recipe for insomnia!
When we finally returned to the US, my body was all out of whack. I started not being able to even fall asleep! Just as I’d begin to relax and get to that point of letting go, I’d jerk awake and my heart would race. Then followed a cycle of being anxious* about falling asleep. That never works.
Eventually I had to take a med for a few weeks when I became sleep deprived. I met with a trainer for exercise, quit most evening commitments, took some supplements and gradually healed my body. But the strategy that worked most effectively was prayer.
My goal was to force my mind to not think about not sleeping. I did this by choosing instead to pray. I confess that in order to put me back to sleep, my praying had to be quite mindless and repetitious so as to put me to sleep. Now of course, this is not the best prayer strategy. But it does fall under the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “be not anxious.”
In Philippians 4:5b, he gives us a second strategy (see my previous post for the first strategy) for dealing with anxiety: in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
If you’re like me, you want how-to’s, the final 10 steps to peace and removing anxiety. God didn’t give step by step instructions for a good reason. We have to learn to make it work for us. And that requires leaning on him.
So simply start. Start by addressing God. Talk to him. Put aside the formal prayer list with a thousand names on it and talk to him. Bring your petitions to him. The original language for this word implies an extreme level of poverty or the lack of basic human needs for survival. In other words, a desperate soul. Go to God and bring your desperation, your hardship, your deprivation and suffering. Tell him about it.
And then tell him thank you. Gratefulness takes our eyes off ourselves and puts them back on him and his greatness. It is difficult to whine and complain when we are being grateful.
So when I wake up yet again, or the decisions facing me are mounting, or the ones I love are floundering or lost or the needs seem overwhelming, I talk to God. I tell him all about it. Then I find something I can thank him for. And then what does he promise? His peace. And then an anxious thought comes again….and I hit repeat.
I am still a light sleeper. I still wake up many times a night and the new challenges of my age aren’t helping either, but I still apply this strategy. I wake up, roll over, say a prayer and go back to sleep. Some days it is several prayers and takes intention to calm my anxious heart, but I’m talking to God and that counts, doesn’t it?
Who have you been talking to lately about your anxious thoughts?
If you have been praying, have you been grateful?
If you haven’t been praying, why not? What is stopping you?
Lord, I give you all my anxiety, fears, concerns, needs. And then I remember that you are big and powerful and loving and kind and generous and holy and good. And I thank you for hearing my needs and I trust that you can do something about them. And what you do will be exactly what I need.
*Again, I am not addressing a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Please see a counselor who loves Jesus if this is your experience.