Sleepless nights are common. I lay my head down, and a thousand thoughts intrude. I count. I pray. I pursue redundant thoughts, desperate for enough peace in my mind to allow me to drift to sleep. But the peace doesn’t come, and the intrusive images keep me alert.
No matter what I try, the nights can be endless. There are psalms in the Bible that describe "the long watches of the night." At least I can rest in the knowledge that I am in good company.
The long watches began early for me. I was in fifth grade, and I had taken the lead in a school play. Weeks before the performance, I began to stay up, worrying that I would forget lines or trip and fall in my pretty dress. I had discovered a habit that I would carry with me long past grade school—incessant, unrelenting worry. The play ended, but the sleepless nights persisted. One night, desperate for rest, I began pacing back and forth in the living room, purposefully crying louder and louder so that my daddy would wake. My ploy worked. He came into the living room, wiped the sleep and irritation from his eyes, and sat at the end of the couch to rub my feet. I told him I couldn’t sleep and that I was going to have a terrible day at school the next day. He told me everything would be well. Even if I didn’t get any sleep at all, my little body would adjust. When he left, I fell asleep immediately. Everything would be well. Daddy said.
For several years after that conversation, I never had another sleepless night. Then I grew up. And I grew out of my daddy’s comfort. Oh, I want it back, desperately. But no matter what I tell myself, no matter how often I try to convince myself that everything is well, there’s a voice in my mind saying, "Lies. Lies. Lies." I even ask my Father in heaven, "Please tell me everything is going to be okay." And He does: "For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:16-17). But some horrible, vexing, filthy voice still tries to convince me it’s not true, that if I don’t let the images burn in my mind throughout the deep watches of the night, I won’t be prepared to deal with their reality in the morning.
I pray, "Oh, God, that I could just learn to let go—to trust You with the same childlike trust that I once gave my earthly daddy." I don’t understand why I don’t. The solution is obvious: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:32-34). I know what to do. I just don’t know how to do it.
Tonight I will take over-the-counter sleeping pills, lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. I will come up with yet another mindless drill to give myself, thinking that maybe this one will work when none other has. And I will try to convince myself that all is well. I have nothing to be worried about, nothing to keep me awake. Ironically, this too will keep me awake, because I will be concerned about not being concerned. And the vicious cycle will continue.
But tonight, I will lie down with hope. I have finally learned that there is nothing I can do to calm myself and no drill or prayer I can practice to make the worry go away. But I envision, when I least expect it, my Father in heaven will come and sit at the end of my bed, rub my feet and whisper to my soul, "Everything is well. No matter what happens to you tonight and tomorrow, everything is well." And finally hearing it from my Father, deep within, where my childlike trust is still vibrant and strong, I will know it’s true.
And I will never have another long watch of the night.
Crystal Loveless is an event administrator with Bill Glass Champions for Life, a prison ministry in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.